‘AN AMERICAN REFLECTS ON ALBANIAN INDEPENDENCE DAY’

By John L. Withers II, One year ago today, I was privileged to attend ceremonies in Vlora marking the ninety-fifth anniversary of Albania’s independence. As I watched President Topi raise the Albanian flag in the city’s historic square, I thought

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Flag Day and White Night

Let me begin by skipping flag day, since it seemed that it was for the most part skipped in Tirana. As for the White Night, congratulations to the few who like ETC and SkyTower actually tried to light up the

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Tangible opportunity for free elections

The chorus of voices expressing concern about the smooth running of the upcoming parliamentary elections gathers momentum. At first sight this concern is more than legitimate. Several institutions required to conduct and guarantee the elections have still not been established,

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Arber- sefarad: in the otherճ mirror

MarZambrano used to say that along with the outer time and space flow, with a different rhythm, the inner time and space, which links the present of the past, or the memory with the present of the future, or the

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Faslic, the kind of “lobbyist” we don’t need

By Henri ȩli The very least that could be said about Damir Faslic, the person who has been making the headlines in the Albanian written media for days now, is how shady a character he is. The structure of the

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We need an Albanian Falcone

What do Naim Mala, Liam Neeson and James Bond have in common? You may well ask in return ‘ who on Earth is Naim Mala? The good (or maybe not so good) Mr Mala was recently proposed by the newly

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Albania -Tourist Paradise of 2030?

Cast yourself forward to 2030. It’s only 20 years or so away. Tourists are fed up of Greece. Croatian arrogance has annoyed too many people. Montenegro, for a while quite fashionable amongst certain types of tourist, now just has too

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Why Albania can help to rejuvenate “old Europe”

New Europe this phrase has established in Germany and other Western European countries as slightly sarcastic denomination for the Transition states in Central- and Eastern Europe since the days of the former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In 2003 during

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Take the car, or walk?

Within a radius of about two kilometers from Scanderbeg Square, in the very heart of the capital – you can find almost everything: almost all the state institutions, business centers, expensive boutiques and the market place with its cheaper range

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MACEDONIA CONFRONTS ITS FUTURE

Janusz Bugajski Dangers lurk ahead for the new coalition government in Macedonia. Skopje sees NATO and EU entry as its policy priorities but cannot achieve its targets without resolving the dispute with Greece. If there is no solution over the

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By John L. Withers II, 

One year ago today, I was privileged to attend ceremonies in Vlora marking the ninety-fifth anniversary of Albania's independence.  As I watched President Topi raise the Albanian flag in the city's historic square, I thought of the heroes and heroines of the past.  They had assembled here in 1912 in dire circumstances.  They had gathered without an army to combat the foreign troops invading from all sides.  They had arrived with few resources.  All they had were a flag, stitched by the hand of Marigo Posio; courage in their beliefs; and a noble idea.  But in the end, that idea would prevail and Albania would be free.
 Today, I would like to share my personal reflections on this day's meaning to me, a visitor from afar.
On occasion, I have seen an extraordinary photograph from the early days of Albania's independence struggle.  Scholars, I understand, debate whether it was taken on November 28, 1912 itself, the day Skanderbeg's proud banner once again waved over Albanian soil, or whether it was taken a few days or even a year later.  What cannot be debated, however, is that the photograph captures a gripping moment in Albania's freedom struggle and that it still conveys, these many years later, the powerful spirit of those historic times.
 The photograph shows a simple, two-storey building with shuttered windows and a plain design.  A few meters above the entry way hangs a small wooden balcony crowded with men.  A large group of onlookers, many wearing traditional qeleshe , is gathered below.  Banners of various design swirl overhead.  Despite the fact that the image is in black-and-white, the atmosphere is palpable:  the bright sun, the restless murmur of the crowd, and its growing anticipation of what is next to come.
 Among those clustered on the balcony, I recognize one individual immediately.  His snow-white hair and beard, contrasting sharply with his dark headgear and clothing, tell me at once that he is Ismail Qemali, the leader of the uprising, the man who raised the flag in Vlora and whose democratic convictions propelled him to become Albania's first Prime Minister.  
There is something striking in Qemali's pose.  While those around him either peer downward at the crowd or across at each other, Qemali gazes beyond the teeming mass  below at something distant, as though he is discerning at that instant some sign, some signal, perhaps some portent on the future's uncertain horizon.
 No one can ever know what he was thinking then.  But we know what he thought later when he looked back on those tumultuous days.  He wrote:
It is possible that one can say that since [independence day], the government may not have done certain things that it should have done, or that some of these things, it did not do well.  Rest assured, however, that it did all it could.  But there is one thing of great value that the government has done that no one can call into question:  that is, it has hoisted high the flag of Albanian freedom.
His words are powerful, and touching.  They are not those of a mythic figure, but of a flesh-and-blood man, who made mistakes, was conscious of them, and was, thus, also conscious of the long road ahead for Albania to genuine independence.  Later generations might invoke his mythic stature to sustain themselves through decades of war, dictatorship, and strife until true freedom was attained, but it is for his humanity that he is really admired.
       
In the White House in Washington, D.C., hangs the portrait of another man.  He is slender, elegantly dressed, and exudes an aristocratic air.  On his long aquiline nose rests a pair of wire-rimmed glasses.  One of his hands lies gently on the arm of his chair; the other clasps a large volume bound in red.  His head is turned slightly so as to face the viewer.  But there is also in his eyes that distant gaze, reminiscent of Qemali's, as though he too is lost in a vision beyond the now.  He is Woodrow Wilson, the twentieth-eighth President of the United States.
 Nor can we know what the man in the portrait is thinking.  Could it be of those lofty ideals that the world would forever after dub "Wilsonian?"  Could it be of his great address to the peoples of all nations, The Fourteen Points, among which he called for "international guarantees of the political and economic independence and territorial integrity of the several Balkan states"?  Or could it possibly be of his promise to Albania, the country in which I now serve?  Before the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, he said:  "I have but one voice . . . and that voice I will use to the benefit of Albania."
 
I sometimes like to imagine what would have occurred had these two remarkable men met.  From his Memoirs, we learn that Qemali traveled to Paris as the representative of the Albanian-American community at the very Peace Conference that Wilson would also attend.  However, we do not know if they ever met and it seems unlikely that they did.    
How different the two men were!  To my knowledge, they shared no common language.  As far as I know, they never communicated directly, either by letter or telegraph.  I cannot establish whether they ever mentioned each other's name.  Yet, I believe that they shared a bond stronger than the divides and distances that separated them:  the bond of common hopes, dreams, and aspirations, and a mutual commitment to freedom's future that was the central theme when another great Albanian patriot, Fan Noli, spoke to Wilson face-to-face in the summer of 1918.
 In that discussion, when told that Wilson would raise his voice for Albania in Paris, Noli commented:
 "That voice will be sufficient for the Albanians. . . They will forever be grateful and completely assured of their rights."
 "Do not tell them that," the President replied, smiling, "because they could then leave their work and slumber. . . . what is required is that they work harder than ever before."
Ismail Qemali would well have understood the President's words.  He would have grasped Wilson's meaning that freedom is not a discrete event, established one time only and then neglected, but rather a continuum of effort and vigilance and struggle.  The two men would have agreed that self-rule is not the creation, let alone the provenance of governments or the property of elites, but the birthright of the people as a whole, nourished, sustained, and preserved solely by their will.  And they might have concurred that their shared lesson to us, Albanians and Americans alike, is that democracy is not only about what is today, but about what can be tomorrow.  
Or, as a soon-to-be American President might put it, democracy means, "Yes, we can!"
  So, November 28 is indeed a day for us, Albanians and friends of Albania together, to recall the champions of Albanian independence - they who continue to inspire us with their sacrifice and courage in making this country free.  It is also a day for us to rededicate ourselves to the ideals - freedom, democracy, the people's inalienable rights - to which they devoted their lives.  But in the end, it is perhaps most a day for all of us to do as those great past heroes did and lift our gaze to the horizon.
G컵ar Dit쮠e Pavar촩s론 

John L. Withers II, is the U.S. Ambassador to Albania 

                    [post_title] =>  'AN AMERICAN REFLECTS ON ALBANIAN INDEPENDENCE DAY'      
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                    [post_content] => Let me begin by skipping flag day, since it seemed that it was for the most part skipped in Tirana. As for the White Night, congratulations to the few who like ETC and SkyTower actually tried to light up the night, and to the many people who came out to walk the Boulevard and see nothing but groups of police officers. I had eagerly anticipated an exciting night, not necessarily to the extent as in cities like Paris, Toronto or Campidoglio , but a certainly a night to remember. I will of course remember this night, however it will stand out as another failed event that wasted tax-payers money and time. From 22:00-23:30 I walked the boulevard and traversed the Block in search of something, and found only a small stage in the Block with a rock band playing some tunes.. The boulevard was crowded, but the lights were missing, and so was the entertainment. It was so dull in fact I stopped to ask an officer to direct me to the White Night events, and he replied, "you're there!".. 
The National Gallery and the National Cultural Centre had no lights at all, very few private businesses added lights to their d꤯r and Skanderbeg Square was almost deserted. Shameful really. When I got home, I tried to check the website to see where I went wrong, but of course, there is no website. Even on the municipality's website, there's nothing but some old pictures of White Night in the Mayor's office - from 2005. The White Night, was in fact a darker night than normal, since traffic was not allowed on the Boulevard. I guess I will have to wait for the next election campaign to see a real "White Night", or maybe I'll just stay home the next time.

Kevin Tummers
Ekphrasis Studio
Arts Management and Creative Industries

                    [post_title] =>  Flag Day and White Night   
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                    [post_content] => The chorus of voices expressing concern about the smooth running of the upcoming parliamentary elections gathers momentum. At first sight this concern is more than legitimate. Several institutions required to conduct and guarantee the elections have still not been established, the Electoral Code, identity cards and the electoral reform in general are still to be completed. Meanwhile, the latest political developments steering the Ruling Majority onto collision courses with almost all the players and other social factors do very little towards creating hopes that Albania will be ready for the upcoming elections. If you were to throw-in the concern of the Internationals and Berisha's forlorn history of his relationship with free and fair elections, you could be easily persuaded that the next round of elections are doomed to failure. However, this is a conviction based on the idea that the fate of elections is determined by institutions and not political dynamics. Subsequently, this is an erroneous conviction.
Never before has Albania had such a great opportunity to have free and fair elections as it has today. The current Ruling Majority has been sucked into a spiral of crises, conflicts and contradictions, from which it will be very hard to extricate itself prior to the 2009 elections. With each passing day its chances of winning these elections diminish. This does not signify that it is a done deal that the right wing will not win the elections, as everything is possible in politics. Nonetheless, one thing is for certain. The current Ruling Majority will not be able to hold on to power through manipulated elections. And this for the simple fact that it lacks the support of key social players and factors within the country, but also the support of the international factor. It was the combination of these two dimensions which permitted the socialists, in office yesterday, to manipulate elections before a Berisha who did not enjoy the support either of key domestic players or of the International Community. And precisely in 2005, when Berisha won the support of the key social players inside the country and the SP lost the support of the International Community, the best parliamentary elections since 1992 took place. 
Today, when Berisha does not enjoy either the support of key players inside the country or of the International players, the only way he may be able to win again is by holding free and fair elections. In other words, Berisha may be able to stay in office only with the support of a third player-the Albanian constituents. This is why Berisha and the Democratic Party are today more interested than anyone else in having free and fair elections, because this is their only hope to hang on to power. Naturally, it remains to be seen if the current Ruling Majority really holds the support of the constituency. Again it is certain that even with this support, this Majority would find it very hard to hold on to power following 2009, whereas in the absence of the support of the electorate, the Majority has no hope at all of remaining in office through electoral manipulation.
The Socialist Party, on the other hand, is becoming more and more certain that it already has the upcoming electoral battle in the bag. Gerdec, Faslic, the criticism of the International Community, the economic problems or the different scandals of corruption, even individually would be sufficient to seriously undermine Berisha's power, while combined they would be lethal. With these issues looming on the horizon, the achievements of the Government pale, successes like the roads, the battle against organized crime, the growing legitimacy in the economy, or membership to NATO even though they will be sung to several times prior to the elections. This seems to have had a soothing effect on the SP so much so that it sometimes even forgets to put up a proper opposition to issues and is satisfied with miming declarations by Western Ambassadors. None the less, in these conditions, the Socialist Party has no reason to think that there will be electoral manipulation. It is convinced that it will be able to win these elections against the DP effortlessly. 
So, we have political dynamics that for a variety of reasons, push the two main parties towards free and fair elections. The only political force that may be endangered in the current conditions is the SMI, as a result of possible DP-SP cooperation. Nevertheless, with the current proportional electoral system, the possibilities for manipulation are restricted. As the elections draw nearer and the situation becomes even more polarized, DP-SP collaboration may also become more difficult. Therefore, irrespective of a political situation which on the surface gives you no reason to feel optimistic, Albania does have, today, one of the best chances it ever had to hold free and fair elections tomorrow. 

                    [post_title] =>  Tangible opportunity for free elections 
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                    [post_content] => MarZambrano used to say that along with the outer time and space flow, with a different rhythm, the inner time and space, which links the present of the past, or the memory with the present of the future, or the hope. And if for every body this time is personal and not transferable, such is also the one through which History passes by as well as the memory and the collective hope and imaginary of nations: neither everything that passes, actually passes, nor passes in the same way, but remains, past present in the collective imaginary that defines a culture, an "Us" and the will of being towards the future. Seldom do the inner times or the collective imaginaries meet each other: somehow precisely for this reason they are ours and not someone else's. Seldom and thus exceptional; since if in what has defined an "I" and an "Us" we have once walked together, somehow we share a common "Us". If there is a symbol to define the common "Us" of the Albanians, their will to be, that is- more than anyone else- , Gjergj Kastriot "Scanderbeg", his fight and his deed for freedom, a past always present. A freedom protected with the swords as much as with the words, with diplomacy. Through the strategic alliance that he established with Alfonse the Magnanimous, king of Aragon. If Scanderbeg was for all Europe the symbol of a resisting Christianity against the Ottoman attack, for Alfonse of Aragon the alliance with him was much more than that: it was the decisive element to make possible for the Christians that the Mediterranean continued to be the "Mare Nostrum", the one where - as Admiral Roger de Lluria said - even the fishes had to wear the emblem of the King of Aragon to pass through. Which is for each of us the meaning of the other's myth? Which is the meaning of that relationship with Scanderbeg for the collective imaginary and the explanation of the History of the Crown of Aragon from Spain of today? Which is the meaning of the alliance with Alfonse for the collective imaginary and the explanation of the History of Albania of today? To know the other's perspective is to know better one's self. If rare are the occasions in which the collective imaginaries meet each other in their presences, even more extraordinary are those when they meet in their absences. Like those of which the parallel stories of Arberesh and Sephardim, tell us, histories of absences and presences; of Sephardims and Arbereshes but also of Spain without Sefarad and Albania without Arberia; of Spain in Sefarad and of Albania in Arberia. After all, the ones that left are as much Spanish or Albanian as the ones that stayed; and no one of us- of those that left and of those that remained- can be complete without meeting with the other. In order to meet with them, with the ones we used to live with once upon a time, with those who five centuries later have kept as their language Spanish or Albanian, the same language that their ancestors used to speak when they left; in order to learn lessons of the parallel History of these absences and to better know this encounter in History which was the strategic alliance between Scanderbeg and Alfonse the Magnanimous, the Embassy of Spain in Albania has organized this 20th of November the International Day "Arberia-Sefarad: In the Other's Mirror" which will deal with both matters in round tables, after which an Exhibition on the Sephardic presence in the Balkan "Witnesses of the Jewish Century "will be inaugurated at the National Museum of History, to end with the opportunity to travel in time to Sefarad and Arberia, by means of the music, in the concert offered by the group of Sephardic music "Mashalᢠat the National Theatre of Opera and Ballet, including the interpretation of arberesh music performed by invited guests  


Manuel Montobbio
Ambassador of Spain in Albania


                    [post_title] =>  Arber- sefarad: in the otherճ mirror   
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                    [post_content] => By Henri ȩli

The very least that could be said about Damir Faslic, the person who has been making the headlines in the Albanian written media for days now, is how shady a character he is. The structure of the answers he gave in his interview on the talk show "Opinion", the structure of his very own "Top-Story" becomes even shadier with the possibility that Faslic could be "a suspect," in other words someone who may have broken the law, but this remains to be proven by the relevant authorities in the days to come. What could be said off the cuff is what is obvious. Here we have an individual who has managed to slip through the cracks of a local and international system and has made about 50 million in Albania since 2005! There are no indications of a very successful business or a lottery windfall!

There is at least one thing that also indicates the existence of a Faslic racket, and that is the transition of our political life to a new moment, in which the world of politics and that of capital proclaimed their open bonds, clearly. Perhaps, in the final account, this was a good thing, because after a phase of principles, after a phase of misunderstanding and misinterpretation of liberal democracy, perhaps we need to look fairly and squarely at and admit to several realities. Damir Faslic slammed some of these realities at us in his interview. This outlandish young man of the Balkans, who travels the world, who, one moment is behind the scenes of the electoral campaign of the party that won the general elections in 2005 in Albania, and next is seen in official meetings at the side of the former US Secretary for National Security, or sitting opposite the Prime Minister of Albania, sometimes wearing the hat of an investor, then the hat of a broker or even as a purchaser of his own companies etc.

As the full cycle of the Faslic story is run, from the day he appeared amongst the teams or groups of assistants in BG&R's election campaign, which helped bring the Democratic Party to office in 2005, and right up to the moment of a few days ago when, having safely boarded his private jet Faslic managed to slip through the fingers of the Albanian Prosecution which had issued instructions for him to be held for questioning before leaving Albania - the thing that comes to light is the fact that Albanian politics has entered the stage of calculating interests between international and local players, of politics and business. This has now become a public fact, as against previously being a fact that was not for public consumption and which, in itself, raises several questions and question marks on the future of this model towards which we are heading.

What is absolutely unbearable about Faslic's televised confession and about other accompanying circumstances is the effort to describe Faslic's activity linked with Albania as "lobbyism" generated by political passions. In this context, the "Faslic-story" discredits lobbyism, which in itself, is vital for liberal democracy, for its development in this country and all over the world. Just as disgusting and unbearable is the almost "folkloric" treatment of this episode by the Opposition of the Majko-Bra襠ilk, who scream their heads off about "Serbia sitting cross-legged on Albania" and so on, when the whole affair revolves around nothing but money!

Faslic and his activities do not represent anything, in particular no kind of lobby. This individual represents no-one but himself, he does not represent any decision-making center, no international organization, economic grouping or formation, in whose name he could act or coordinate affairs with local players, beginning with the Prime Minister of the country, to change anything in the dynamics of the development of the country or of its international relations. As a businessman, he is more than insignificant to be regarded as a player in the evolution of the business climate or in the development perspectives of Albania.

Not only does Faslic not represent anyone, but he does not even stand for an idea or conceptual structure, of the kind that could set up coordination with local players to influence changes in the country's situation. As an enthusiast of politics, business or democracy in Albania, what legislation, what reforms, what amendments to the Rules has Faslic been lobbying for? 

He has lobbied for nothing of this kind. With no representation, no ideas and no cause, Faslic is something fabricated in the corridors of this Ruling Majority and its annexes, something to make money through wheeling and dealing. And this is exactly how he should be dealt with by the State and the Law, by the political opposition and the media. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, in liberal democracy, Faslic is certainly not an episode of lobbying. 

                    [post_title] =>  Faslic, the kind of "lobbyist" we don't need 
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                    [post_content] => What do Naim Mala, Liam Neeson and James Bond have in common?  You may well ask in return ' who on Earth is Naim Mala?  The good (or maybe not so good) Mr Mala was recently proposed by the newly declared state of Kosovo as their Ambassador to Switzerland.  Unfortunately for Mr Mala, the Swiss authorities turned down his nomination.  No reason was given.  Media commentators in Kosovo however have said that this might be because of a 'police record'.  I would venture a guess that Mr Mala's police record in Switzerland did not involve parking violations.
And what of Liam Neeson.  He stars in a rather entertaining film on release now called 'Taken'.  The plot is relatively simple. Mr Neeson's daughter is kidnapped by human traffickers and the film revolves around his efforts to ensure her safe return.  I won't spoil the plot for you, but it is enough to say that the traffickers have a rough time of it.  No prizes for guessing the nationality of these bad guys.  Neeson says at one point to one of them 'You need to focus , Marko from Tropoja'.  This Marko is assisted in focussing his thoughts by being  hooked up to the French national electricity grid at the time.

As for James Bond, the baddie in the last film 'Casino Royale' is
supposed to be Albanian too -although his name Le Chiffre is hardly what one might expect.

Now it is certainly gratifying to see traffickers tortured and
killed  by Liam Neeson's character. Human traffickers are the lowest of the low, true scum and I say that as a human rights lawyer!  It is also amusing to see Kosovoar diplomats turned down for murky reasons.    But the underlying message is that whether you like it or not Albanians have a serious image problem.  Most sensible Albanians know this, and realise that crying 'prejudice' will not achieve anything.  Ten years ago it was Serbs who were the Balkan pariahs for Europeans and Americans.  Now it is Albanians.

What can Albanians do about this?  Your politicians of course are far more interested in squabbling amongst themselves to address this problem.  Albania has a very poor record of political leadership.  The only hope from that quarter may be Edi Rama, who appears regularly in various UK TV travel shows.  More educated Westerners know him as the man who painted Tirana.  This is good as far as it goes.  But image matters, as I am sure Mr Rama and many other Albanians (not the criminals or politicians of course) realise.  There may come a time when Albania is a candidate for EU membership.  It may be painful to read this but Serbia has a far better profile in most European voters eyers than Albania, and that is because of only one thing.  Crime.  Until that is seen to be dealt with, the problem will continue.   Who knows, maybe one day Albania will produce its own equivalent to those Sicilian heroes Judges Falcone and  Borsellini, whose names will far outlast any of the criminal mafia dirtbags who killed them.

As for the expatriate community, lets hope  that over the next
decade or so a new generation of Albanian-IAmericans, Italians, Swiss and British do what the Italian-Americans did in previous years. The men who broke the power of the Italian mafias in the US were largely Italian-American. New York's former Mayor Giuliani was only the most famous of many police and prosecutors who dedicated their lives to ensuring that Italy was seen not only as the home of the Cosa Nostra, and ensured
that the Sopranos did not define their excellent culture.  Lets hope the time will come when an American District Attorney, a British Judge or an Italian senior Police Officer with an Albanian name bring honor to their ancestral home in the same way as Giuliani did for Italians.

Until this happens, look out as the honor of Albania continues to be besmirched by its criminals who continue to abuse the hospitality of their host countries, such as Britain, and bring shame on all Albanians.

                    [post_title] =>  We need an Albanian Falcone 
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                    [post_content] => Cast yourself forward to 2030.  It's only 20 years or so away.  Tourists are fed up of Greece.  Croatian arrogance has annoyed too many people.  Montenegro, for a while quite fashionable amongst certain types of tourist, now just has too many Russians.  Albania is the most popular tourist destination in Southern Europe.  Its not little old me saying this, it's the respected 'Tomorrow's Tourism' report by Dr Ian Yeoman, who is said to be the only futurologist specialising in tourism trends.  His report makes interesting reading, but when looked at generally makes a good deal of sense.  Albania has the coastline, low cost of living, mountains and proximity to European markets that are the ingredients of a successful destination. He also highlights the second-home tourist as a key driver for such success.

I speak to a great many people involved or interested in property overseas.  It is one of those British obsessions.  Questions I often hear, now that Bulgaria is full of Brits, is 'What do you think, is it worth investing in Albania? Should I buy property there?'  I say that if you can find the right place, if you have the right contacts and, most importantly if you feel you can trust a legal system that is at best weak and corrupt, then go right ahead.  But that is quite a few 'ifs'. You can be sure that the same conversation is happening in Austria and Germany.  

Whatever I say, the truth is of course that you, as Albanians, are going to see an increasing number of tourists every year.  Some of them will become temporary residents, like in France or Spain.  I think that Albanians will show themselves to be great hosts.  I certainly hope so. It may well be that as the years go on and awareness grows that it is really quite important to keep crime under control (I tell foreigners that Albania is the safest country I have traveled in, including my own) and develop courts which can be trusted, Albania will become richer and more pleasant not only for foreign visitors but also locals. 
 It may be a long way off, but you can have a rich and bright future.  
So lets look forward to 2030 and a well-run popular destination with all the wealth and good renown that will come with it.  

Or......the country could go another way.  Your own little Albanian oligarchs, (we could call them minigarchs)criminals most of them- like their Russian colleagues, will buy up or steal the best stretches of coastline for themselves.  Sazan Island is a casino run for the benefit of sleazy politicians and their unpleasant cohorts.  The Southern
 Coast is concreted over with kilometers of rubbish hotels, and now all of Ksamil's Islands have received the 'improvements' that only one had suffered in 2008 (have you seen that!? - Almost worse than what has happened to Petrela Castle).  The Ionian Sea, once the cleanest stretch of the Mediterranean is a sterile polluted mess in which it is dangerous to swim and fish are no longer seen. 

With the politicians you have now, let's be honest, which is the most likely outcome?   I will close by saying this.  Professor Yeoman also believes that there one of the most exciting developments by 2030 will be a golf course on the moon.    

                    [post_title] =>  Albania -Tourist Paradise of 2030? 
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                    [post_content] => New Europe this phrase has established in Germany and other Western European countries as slightly sarcastic denomination for the Transition states in Central- and Eastern Europe since the days of the former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In 2003 during the diplomatic slugfest of his country with Paris and Berlin on Iraq, he used to bash France and Germany with the label "old Europe." The phrase implies there is also a "new Europe", free from the arrogant, self-willing and cynic attitude of former European imperial powers that American "Neo-Cons" reproached Germans and French with. He detected it among those Eastern European countries that -like Albania-were inclined to join the US-headed "Coalition of the Willing." 
Meanwhile malicious tongues in Western Europe interpreted Rumsfeld's saying in a different way. For them Central- and Eastern Europe was "new Europe" in the way that the peoples from Poland to Albania just recently had turned their back on oriental despotism- rather "not yet fully European" indeed, and therefore prone to give in to a dominant US.
Even before coming to Albania, it appeared clear to me, that the described categorization into "old" and "new" Europeans is not only presumptuous and polemic, but basically ridiculous. Why should Tirana be less a "European" capital, than Athens, which is only some hundred kilometers away, just due to the fact that Greece is an established member of the EU, while Albania is not yet fully associated? And what would old Illyrians say, who once formed a part of the ancient civilization which Europe still refers to,  if they would have come to know that their descendants would once not fully be accepted as "Europeans" by some, while the offspring of barbarian Germanic and Gaulic tribes would be considered as "Old Europe"? 
While the categories of "old" and "new" do not lead anywhere, there is another classification of the differences between Western and Eastern Europe that makes more sense to me. Western European countries are indeed "old" in terms of demography. The average age in countries like Spain, Italy and Germany is rising dramatically, while birth rates go to the basement. The effect of the demographic change on the mentality of those countries is yet noticeable: Caution overweighs risk appetite, while social conservatism gets more and more the order of the day. 
On the contrary Albania appears as a "young" European country, or saying it in different word, it is a country, where many young Europeans live due to the fact, that the average age of Albanians is one of the lowest in Europe. 
But Albania's young generation is not only more significant by figure than their contemporaries in Western Europe it is also well educated, full of entrepreneurial spirit and eager to promote themself. The twens and thirtysomethings of Albania are definitely more flexible and less complaining than their counterparts in Germany and I guess in other Western European countries as well. 
Talking to Albanian young professionals I assessed, that they see good opportunities and preconditions for their personal career at home. "Go West" - the refrain of the old Pet-Shop-Boys-Song - no longer seems to be their first option.
As Albania can therefore look into the future with an optimistic smile, also their cousins in Western Europe - easily prone to self-pity and anxiety on the future- can cheer up as well. With the inevitable entrance of Albania and other Eastern and Southern Eastern countries in the EU which are not yet included, the whole continent will be granted a rejuvenation therapy. Mixing "old" Europe with "young" Europe would then definitely be a "new Europe." 

                    [post_title] =>  Why Albania can help to rejuvenate "old Europe"   
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                    [post_content] => Within a radius of about two kilometers from Scanderbeg Square, in the very heart of the capital - you can find almost everything: almost all the state institutions, business centers, expensive boutiques and the market place with its cheaper range of commodities, outpatient's clinics, theatres, cinemas, two stadiums, the city quarter that is crammed with coffee shops and bars, almost everything, in short. 
You can live a good life in Tirana. Week-ends can be spent outside of the capital, 30 kilometers to the east of the city is Mt. Dajti and 30 kilometers to the west is the Adriatic coastline. Tirana is perhaps the only capital in Europe which provides you with the luxury of being able to reside and walk to work every day. On an average, it would take you from five to twenty five minutes to get to work. 
In this age of a sedentary existence, doctors advise a brisk thirty minute walk daily. But the residents of the capital and of other cities and towns and even of the villages in the countryside have been deeply in love with cars for the last twenty years. So passionate has this love affair been, that it is much easier to come across a Mercedes Benz 240 on a country road than a tractor! 
Up until 1990 it was prohibited by law for an Albanian to own a private vehicle, and prohibited fruits always have the best flavor. The Albanians are still far from growing tired of this flavor despite the sharp rise of prices on fuel and irrespective of the fact that the experts rank car exhaust as the number one pollutant of the air in Tirana. 
There are daily more than 100,000 vehicles on the road in the capital of Albania. Different from other cities of the continent, there is no "rush hour" in Tirana. It is "rush hour" the whole day long. A foreign company which the City Hall of Tirana brought in to monitor Tirana's traffic flow drew the conclusion that here there is no peak to traffic flow in the mornings and after working hours, but that the flow is constantly the same. This conclusion does not come as a surprise to residents of Tirana. It is just as difficult to park a car in Tirana's main streets and squares as it is in Manhattan. 
At long last, the City Hall has paved the road towards the construction of subterranean parking areas, but this is nothing but an invitation to continue using cars. To see someone peddling along the street on a bike in Tirana is such a rare moment that it is almost a "tourist attraction." 
Sadly, the capital has no respect for the citizen. Vehicles are respected far more. All the reconstruction work in infrastructure has focused on widening streets and not pavements. There are no lanes for bikes. Here, it is the car that reigns supreme. It never crosses anyone's mind to de-throne this "sovereign" either. Awareness initiatives come fromŮBrussels! "Circulation Week", an annual initiative introduced by the European Union back in 2003, is an awareness activity that culminated on 22 September this year too with, "The city minus my car." Tirana was also part of this initiative, but for about fifteen minutes. The main boulevard in the capital was cordoned off and children swarmed happily up and down it on their bikes. So many bikes had never been seen in Tirana and passers-by began taking their mobile phones out videoing the event. There were also activities in other towns of the country. The Minister of Environment chose Shkodra, the only city in the country where the cyclist is still held in respect; perhaps a respect that is waning, but nevertheless it has been there up to now. 
In the capital, the main concern of the television commentators and the written media related to these activities on the "Day without Cars" was that there would be traffic jams! A top official or some other VIP spotted walking is headline news in this city. Naturally, such a news item is only a figment of the imagination because all of these individuals only travel anywhere by car. 
The awareness activity against using cars has long been forgotten. In this city it is maintained that even the biggest scandal has a lifespan of three days. It is easy to appeal to people not to travel around in cars, but it does not have much of an impact if you don't have an efficient public transport, if it is dangerous to use a bike, if taxi fares are expensive, if people are not made aware of the colossal damage to everyone from air pollution, if we do not comprehend that this insane fad for cars is fast becoming an obsession, a sick cult. 
Tirana is a capital city within which you can walk comfortably to work; go about your daily business, walk to your favorite coffee bar. You save money by leaving your car at home, you can actually do yourself a service by walking; it is healthier. But all this sound advice has a ring of 'preaching' about it.  
On 22 September next year there will be yet another awareness activity encouraging citizens to leave their cars at home. The only change will be duration time of the activity. This year, all vehicles were evicted from the main boulevard for fifteen minutes, but not to worry, next year it will only be for ten minutes. 
One last piece of advice, and this is not part of the 'preaching.' If you are in a hurry to reach a destination, don't go by car and don't call a taxi because you will only be late. Walk!
 
 
lutfidervishi@gmail.com 


                    [post_title] =>  Take the car, or walk? 
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                    [post_content] => Janusz Bugajski

Dangers lurk ahead for the new coalition government in Macedonia. Skopje sees NATO and EU entry as its policy priorities but cannot achieve its targets without resolving the dispute with Greece. If there is no solution over the name question Macedonia will not receive an invitation to NATO at the April 2009 summit or a membership track to the EU. This could rebound negatively on perceptions of Macedonia's political stability, affect investor confidence, preoccupy government and parliament, halt progress in reforms, and potentially undermine national stability.

The long-term failure to find a solution could also negatively affect the Albanian coalition partner, the DUI, especially as the key foreign policy priority of Albanians is to join NATO because NATO means the U.S. alliance. Macedonia's stalled NATO entry is a source of concern for Albanian leaders as it could lead to isolationism and nationalism in which the Albanians will be left stranded. 

The VMRO government could find itself in a spiral of instability in which Albanian position hardens and the SDSM opposition increasingly attacks the VMRO administration for failing to devise a formula for a solution with Athens or moving Macedonia into NATO and the EU. President Branko Crvenkovski continues to criticize Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski for obstructing the negotiations with Athens and for allegedly using the name question for populist purposes. 

If the West is committed to Macedonia speedily entering NATO and the EU, the stalemate with Greece needs to be overcome. As both sides dispute the meaning of Macedonian identity and believe that their rivals are either denying or claiming their identity in order to pursue a hidden agenda of irredentism or destabilization, the only way out seems to be to make a distinction between Greek Macedonian and Slavic Macedonian and tie this distinction to territory and statehood.

Of course, Macedonia as a state cannot be qualified as Slavic Macedonia because it is not mono-ethnic, but a formula such as New Macedonia seems a viable solution as it does not alter Macedonian identity or threaten Macedonia's statehood but would disarm any reasons for further dispute. It is worth remembering that the previous VMRO government accepted the single formula qualifier of Republic of Macedonia (Skopje) that was rejected by Greece just before the NATO summit. It appears that a name qualifier in itself does not seem to be the issue but finding the right one, or maybe what matters is who does the pressing.

The longer the dispute continues the deeper the intransigence on both sides, the weaker Macedonia will become, and Athens may feel more emboldened and eventually demand no mention of Macedonia in the country's name which of course would be unacceptable not only to Skopje. At that point the U.S. could be in open conflict with Athens while several key EU countries could support Greece, And Russia would benefit from the ensuing division and conflict.

Time is working against Macedonia for at least five reasons. First, more countries have either lined up behind Greece or will not support Skopje in its dispute with Athens. It is difficult to see the Bush White House or the next U.S. administration pushing Athens to drop its demand, precipitate a government collapse, and escalate anti-Americanism in Greece. Washington continues to receive most of the blame in Greece for allegedly supporting Macedonia's perceived intransigence in changing the name. There is a pervasive belief that without U.S. support Skopje would have to make a deal.

Second, the EU seems to be uninvolved in the process. The EU considers itself an interested party and cannot mediate: an interested party which is uninterested in the process or maybe even in the result? Such a stance indicates how the EU dithers or neglects a challenge until a real crisis erupts which it may well do in Macedonia.

Third, in recent months, the VMRO government has raised questions about the collective rights of Macedonian Slavs in Greece where Greece like France does not recognize minority rights but ones based on citizenship. Statements by the VMRO government have further estranged Athens and certainly not helped Macedonia's position internationally. Even presidential contender Barack Obama has been supportive of the Greek position.

Fourth, the Albanian population could become increasingly disillusioned and alienated and its leaders may push for decentralizing and even fracturing the state. A destabilized Macedonia is in nobody's interest, including Greece as it could mean armed conflict and refugees along its northern border, and negatively affect its business interests.

Fifth, without the prospect of EU entry reforms will stall, investor confidence will decline, and economic conditions could deteriorate in Macedonia. 

Basically, there are three choices: stalemate and no solution, pressing Greece to back down and accept the current constitutional name, or press Macedonia to qualify its name. Of the three, the name qualifier is likely to be the least destabilizing for Macedonia and the broader region.

For Russia, Macedonia could become another useful "frozen state" in the Balkans alongside Kosova and Bosnia-Hercegovina. A Macedonia that remains outside NATO and the EU will be a source of dispute and even conflict that can preoccupy Washington and Brussels while Russia pursues its expansive political agenda in Europe to roll-back U.S. influence and neutralize Europe's opposition to Moscow's reimperialization. 

Russia's ambitions are another important reason to rapidly resolve the name dispute with Greece. Resolution would help Macedonia to maintain itself as a single state and not isolated from its neighbors, including Greece. It would help to satisfy and incorporate the Albanian population in the renamed state. At the same time, it would prevent Greece's estrangement from the United States and preclude pushing Athens closer to Russia because its concerns were dismissed by Washington.

                    [post_title] =>  MACEDONIA CONFRONTS ITS FUTURE 
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By John L. Withers II, 

One year ago today, I was privileged to attend ceremonies in Vlora marking the ninety-fifth anniversary of Albania's independence.  As I watched President Topi raise the Albanian flag in the city's historic square, I thought of the heroes and heroines of the past.  They had assembled here in 1912 in dire circumstances.  They had gathered without an army to combat the foreign troops invading from all sides.  They had arrived with few resources.  All they had were a flag, stitched by the hand of Marigo Posio; courage in their beliefs; and a noble idea.  But in the end, that idea would prevail and Albania would be free.
 Today, I would like to share my personal reflections on this day's meaning to me, a visitor from afar.
On occasion, I have seen an extraordinary photograph from the early days of Albania's independence struggle.  Scholars, I understand, debate whether it was taken on November 28, 1912 itself, the day Skanderbeg's proud banner once again waved over Albanian soil, or whether it was taken a few days or even a year later.  What cannot be debated, however, is that the photograph captures a gripping moment in Albania's freedom struggle and that it still conveys, these many years later, the powerful spirit of those historic times.
 The photograph shows a simple, two-storey building with shuttered windows and a plain design.  A few meters above the entry way hangs a small wooden balcony crowded with men.  A large group of onlookers, many wearing traditional qeleshe , is gathered below.  Banners of various design swirl overhead.  Despite the fact that the image is in black-and-white, the atmosphere is palpable:  the bright sun, the restless murmur of the crowd, and its growing anticipation of what is next to come.
 Among those clustered on the balcony, I recognize one individual immediately.  His snow-white hair and beard, contrasting sharply with his dark headgear and clothing, tell me at once that he is Ismail Qemali, the leader of the uprising, the man who raised the flag in Vlora and whose democratic convictions propelled him to become Albania's first Prime Minister.  
There is something striking in Qemali's pose.  While those around him either peer downward at the crowd or across at each other, Qemali gazes beyond the teeming mass  below at something distant, as though he is discerning at that instant some sign, some signal, perhaps some portent on the future's uncertain horizon.
 No one can ever know what he was thinking then.  But we know what he thought later when he looked back on those tumultuous days.  He wrote:
It is possible that one can say that since [independence day], the government may not have done certain things that it should have done, or that some of these things, it did not do well.  Rest assured, however, that it did all it could.  But there is one thing of great value that the government has done that no one can call into question:  that is, it has hoisted high the flag of Albanian freedom.
His words are powerful, and touching.  They are not those of a mythic figure, but of a flesh-and-blood man, who made mistakes, was conscious of them, and was, thus, also conscious of the long road ahead for Albania to genuine independence.  Later generations might invoke his mythic stature to sustain themselves through decades of war, dictatorship, and strife until true freedom was attained, but it is for his humanity that he is really admired.
       
In the White House in Washington, D.C., hangs the portrait of another man.  He is slender, elegantly dressed, and exudes an aristocratic air.  On his long aquiline nose rests a pair of wire-rimmed glasses.  One of his hands lies gently on the arm of his chair; the other clasps a large volume bound in red.  His head is turned slightly so as to face the viewer.  But there is also in his eyes that distant gaze, reminiscent of Qemali's, as though he too is lost in a vision beyond the now.  He is Woodrow Wilson, the twentieth-eighth President of the United States.
 Nor can we know what the man in the portrait is thinking.  Could it be of those lofty ideals that the world would forever after dub "Wilsonian?"  Could it be of his great address to the peoples of all nations, The Fourteen Points, among which he called for "international guarantees of the political and economic independence and territorial integrity of the several Balkan states"?  Or could it possibly be of his promise to Albania, the country in which I now serve?  Before the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, he said:  "I have but one voice . . . and that voice I will use to the benefit of Albania."
 
I sometimes like to imagine what would have occurred had these two remarkable men met.  From his Memoirs, we learn that Qemali traveled to Paris as the representative of the Albanian-American community at the very Peace Conference that Wilson would also attend.  However, we do not know if they ever met and it seems unlikely that they did.    
How different the two men were!  To my knowledge, they shared no common language.  As far as I know, they never communicated directly, either by letter or telegraph.  I cannot establish whether they ever mentioned each other's name.  Yet, I believe that they shared a bond stronger than the divides and distances that separated them:  the bond of common hopes, dreams, and aspirations, and a mutual commitment to freedom's future that was the central theme when another great Albanian patriot, Fan Noli, spoke to Wilson face-to-face in the summer of 1918.
 In that discussion, when told that Wilson would raise his voice for Albania in Paris, Noli commented:
 "That voice will be sufficient for the Albanians. . . They will forever be grateful and completely assured of their rights."
 "Do not tell them that," the President replied, smiling, "because they could then leave their work and slumber. . . . what is required is that they work harder than ever before."
Ismail Qemali would well have understood the President's words.  He would have grasped Wilson's meaning that freedom is not a discrete event, established one time only and then neglected, but rather a continuum of effort and vigilance and struggle.  The two men would have agreed that self-rule is not the creation, let alone the provenance of governments or the property of elites, but the birthright of the people as a whole, nourished, sustained, and preserved solely by their will.  And they might have concurred that their shared lesson to us, Albanians and Americans alike, is that democracy is not only about what is today, but about what can be tomorrow.  
Or, as a soon-to-be American President might put it, democracy means, "Yes, we can!"
  So, November 28 is indeed a day for us, Albanians and friends of Albania together, to recall the champions of Albanian independence - they who continue to inspire us with their sacrifice and courage in making this country free.  It is also a day for us to rededicate ourselves to the ideals - freedom, democracy, the people's inalienable rights - to which they devoted their lives.  But in the end, it is perhaps most a day for all of us to do as those great past heroes did and lift our gaze to the horizon.
G컵ar Dit쮠e Pavar촩s론 

John L. Withers II, is the U.S. Ambassador to Albania 

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