Secrets And Lies: The roots of the ‘organs’ controversy

By Frank Ledwidge I know many of their families. Some of them, against all reason, believe that some day their son, husband or brother will return. They have heard the stories. There is a special camp, they were taken to

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‘Corruption Is Not A Game; It Is A War’

U.S. Ambassador says corruption needs total fight TIRANA, May 7 – U.S. Ambassador John L. Withers II took part Wednesday at the launch of the 2008 Corruption Perception and Experience Survey conducted by IDRA and funded by USAID. Withers considered

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The Return to the Folds of the Natural Family

By EDI RAMA We have turned a leaf on a new chapter in our history. We are invited to return to our natural family. The Albanian people were extended historical support of the United States and its Euro-Atlantic allies, while

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NATO invitation – a momentous event for Albania, says minister

Foreign Minister Lulzim Basha stated at the 12 Annual Economist Government Roundtable “Driving the Global Agenda Through 2020″ that the NATO invitation to Albania and the Kosovar indepepedence were the main events in this part of Europe that were increasing

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Albania’s NATO membership invitation – a miracle

By Sali Berisha Allow me to express my deepest gratitude, to you, the leaders of NATO member countries, for the historic decision you made today, to invite Albania to become a member of the most successful political-military Alliance that time

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Albania’s most important act in recent history – NATO membership invitation

By Bamir Topi Today my country is signing the most important act in its history; today the Albanian people is finally departing from the past of Yalta and Potsdam; Albania in a very dignifying way is successfully demonstrating that freedom

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Interview: Albania – extraordinary willing to show its loyalty to NATO

Michael Haltzel, Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, gives an exclusive interview to the Tirana Times. Haltzel also delivered one of the key speeches at the International Conference “The

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Eradicating the Roots of Evil

By Ardian Klosi One’s initial reaction to a disaster of such magnitude is to seek its cause in an Act of God. If it is not nature, only the State can be nowadays this force majeur. Therefore, in almost all

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The price is life

By Alba ȥla One of the participating movies in Tirana Film Festival 07, a Kosovar production which was praised and prized quite highly was ‘The Iron Mungary’. The movie features a father and a son who collect scrap metal to

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Albania domestic and foreign policy – agenda 2008

Firstly I would like to wholeheartedly thank you for the invitation and opportunity extended to me to address, as you already mentioned, this excellent audience regarding the viewpoint of the President of the Republic about the domestic and foreign policies

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                    [post_content] => By Frank Ledwidge
I know many of their families. Some of them, against all reason, believe that some day their son, husband or brother will return. They have heard the stories. There is a special camp, they were taken to work in mines. Friends had seen them alive long after the kidnapping. Anything. But most mothers, fathers, sisters and wives know in their hearts that for the Serbian civilians kidnapped by the Kosovo Liberation Army there will be no return. They understand now that they are dead. But now there are new stories. Stories of butchery and organ sales. 
I know the families because for two years I was the Missing Persons Officer for the OSCE in Southern Kosovo. The majority of the missing were Kosovar Albanians murdered by Serbian security forces. We made no distinction in how cases were treated, Albanian, Serb or Roma. I am proud that I was threatened by both KLA and by Serb paramilitaries claiming that I was working 'too much with the other side'. We were proudly non-partisan.
Now though we can make a small but significant distinction. For many of the dead Kosovar Albanians there is some kind of Justice. Some Serb killers are serving long prison sentences in the Hague. Milosevic himself is dead. Others are on the run. Many bodies of missing Albanians have been recovered. Not enough justice, true, and not all the dead have been given decent burial and lie still to be discovered. At least for some there is a grave to visit and a place where families may remember.
But for the Serb missing there is no kind of justice. Very few bodies have been recovered. No graves for them. And to add to the injustice, not a single KLA leader has been convicted of their killing. The agony of their families goes on and on.
Not only have they been denied justice, but there is a new horror for their families. Allegations have now arisen that these missing men, or some of them, have been murdered for their organs. Carla del Ponte seems to have abandoned her critical faculties in believing this nonsense, let alone writing about it. In the two years I was involved in these cases, speaking to witnesses, investigators and prosecutors both in Kosovo and the Hague I heard no word of this or anything like it. This is because it never happened. 
Even to discuss this is to dignify the story with plausibility, but I will say two things. First the KLA were insufficiently well organised to operate such a complex system, with its requirement for medical precision and speed of transport. Second, this kind of allegation is what is called an 'urban myth'. Similar stories are to be found concerning traffickers of human beings, and the same considerations apply. Fiction.
Of course in Serbia, extreme nationalists love this story. They are keen at any cost to apply mud to the new Kosovo state. The same applies in Russia where the story of the KLA and the Organ transplants' is playing well.
My question to them is 'Isn't what really happened to the missing Serbs, Roma and Albanians bad enough without prolonging the agony of their families?' But they care nothing about that.
And what did really happen to these men, almost all civilians? You have seen what happened on television. Scared, terrified men many of them severely beaten and tortured led out of a bus into a forest. Screams, gunfire and then silence. You have seen it in the recently released film of the 'Skorpion' killers at Srebrenica. The only substantial difference is that the murderers I am talking about speak Albanian. If you have access to the internet you can read about it in the evidence given at the Hague in the case of the ICTY Prosecutor against Fatmir Limaj and Others (Case IT-03 -66). 
Let me be quite clear. The KLA had some fine men. The zone commander for the area I worked Ekrem Rexha, also known as Commander Drini was a brave soldier respected by his own men and his enemies alike. Very many other KLA fighters were decent men, fighting for what they believed in and defending their homes. I knew some of them. Most are now dead, killed fighting the Serbian forces or murdered like Drini by other KLA factions. 
Other 'officers' in the KLA are nothing less than a disgrace to the Albanian nation. Some of them avoided arrest altogether. Others have been to the Hague and though 'lack of evidence' have been released and have returned to political careers. Believe me there was evidence. Plenty of it.  The problem was that few people were willing to risk death to give that evidence in court. Ultimately the KLA killers have made this horrible story happen. If they had not viciously murdered so many civilians, what story would there be?  
So what should Albanians do when confronted by this kind of story? Albania is not Kosovo. It has a very long and unbroken tradition of tolerance and fair play. There are no mass graves in Albania. Real Albanians should not cry 'injustice' or 'anti-Albanian prejudice', however true this may be. Bringing actions of criminal libel against Del Ponte will serve no purpose except to attract derision. What Albanians should say, and what I say is 'lets identify the killers of these innocent men and bring them to some kind of justice, even if it is only the justice of public shame.' Whatever is done, for the sake of honour and honesty it is about time that all Albanians acknowledged that Serbs do not have the monopoly on massacre. 
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                    [post_content] => U.S. Ambassador says corruption needs total fight
TIRANA, May 7 - U.S. Ambassador John L. Withers II took part Wednesday at
the launch of the 2008 Corruption Perception and Experience Survey conducted by
IDRA and funded by USAID.
Withers considered Albania's NATO invitation, the independence of Kosovo, even
a little bit on Albanian culture and history as some happy topics he has dealt with
recently, adding that corruption was "unfortunately Šnot one of those happy subjects."
The news from the survey on corruption unfortunately was not good, he said.
Corruption has been a main topic in the country and the one that likely gave the
power back to governing Democratic Party of Prime Minister Sali Berisha in 2005
that set the fight against that as the main target.
According to the survey, 92 percent of Albanians says corruption is widespread
among public officials and that is a decline of 8 points form a year ago.
The report shows no progress in bribery indicators. Nearly 70 percent of people
surveyed report paying a bribe for medical treatment. Nearly 60 percent have little or
no trust in the judicial system. By a 3 to 1 margin, Albanians

Today we are releasing the findings of a
USAID-funded survey, conducted by Director
Pasha's institution, on corruption in Albania.
The survey tracks both the perception
and experience of corruption by ordinary
citizens. The news unfortunately is not
good. According to the survey, 92% of Albanians
says corruption is widespread
among public officials and that is a decline
of 8 points form a year ago. The report shows
no progress in bribery indicators. Nearly
70% of people surveyed report paying a
bribe for medical treatment. Nearly 60%
have little or no trust in the judicial system.
By a 3 to 1 margin, Albanians do not think
the judges are impartial when conducting
trials.
The figures show that Albania has a serious
corruption problem. Corruption affects
all parts of Albanian society נthe economy,
the potential for investment, Albania's image
abroad.
But I do not want to continue reciting
numbers; I want to speak a little bit about
how corruption affects ordinary people. In
my many many conversations with Albanians,
not only here in Tirana but throughout
the country, I have discovered that almost
everyone has corruption stories to tell me.
Let me give you just a few examples.
One told me of little children who were
just learning their ABCs, their alphabet, being
told the day before the Teachers Day,
and I quote, "Tell your parents I do not want
flowers tomorrow!" What kind of lesson is
that for a seven year old child? What does
that teach to a seven year old? What mindset
is given to that seven year old for the future?
Several people told me about doctors who
do not look at the patient's medical record
or even record the visit in the official register.
Instead, the doctor asks the patient detailed
questions about the income and their
financial status. If the answer showed that
the patient is poor, that patient gets no medical
treatment. If the patient is well-to-do, the
doctor starts calculating how high a fee he
can get away with.
Many people have told me about their
difficulties about getting basic documents
like a driver's license or birth certificates or
property registration. They tell me how they
'Corruption Is Not A Game; It Is A War'
have to wait hours or sometimes days or even
weeks to get these basic documents for themselves
unless they are willing to hand over
200, 500, 1000 leks or more in which case
they go to the front of the line.
People expressed great frustration over
the fact that the police will announce with
great fanfare a serious corruption case
against senior officials but then weeks pass,
months pass, the charges are reduced, somehow
the case goes away, somehow none is
punished. Now let me be very very clear:
corruption is not only an Albanian problem;
corruption exists everywhere. There is a
great deal of corruption in my own country,
in the United States, and you can pick up
any paper in the country and you can see
reports of that corruption. But the critical
ingredient is not that corruption exists, it is
how we respond to corruption.
One of the things that I find troubling is
that many times when I am speaking to my
Albanian friends and I ask, "You told me all
these stories about corruption. What should
be done about it" and they reply by shrugging
their shoulders and reply, "Mister Ambassador,
this is not the U.S.; this is Albania."
I do not accept that answer.
Albanians value honesty as much as any
people in the world and as much as any people
that I know. Albanians hate corruption.
They hate the fact that the few who are corrupt
spoil it for the many who are not.
And I particularly do not like the implication
in that answer which implies that corruption
is a symptom of Albanian culture; it
is not. Anyone who knows the Albanian people
knows that it is a violation of the ethical
and moral code that Albanians have.
Albanian culture places honesty and integrity
above all else. For Albanians, a promise
given is a promise kept. And the principle
of Besa, the quintessential Albanian virtue,
is a bond that cannot be broken. So, I
repeat, anyone who implies that corruption
is natural to Albania is wrong; corruption is
a violation of what it means to be Albanian.
So, what is to be done?
Let me talk about two particular topics.
The first, addressing corruption is a high
level responsibility. The political elite of this
country must take charge in fighting corruption
in a meaningful way not just through
speeches and words. And when I say the
political elite, let me be clear: I am not pointing
at the government, or the opposition or
any particular political party or individual;
all of the political elite must take responsibility.
And that means that political leaders
must expose acts of corruption even by their
colleagues.
They must not use influence to protect
friends or relatives and they must not use
political power to change the course of justice.
The political elite of Albania should lead
by example. One important straightforward
step that can be done is to change the immunity
law, which protects senior officials in
courts, in Parliament and in other offices
from prosecution. They should be as liable
to prosecution as any Albanian citizen. Put
another way, none should be immune from
prosecution or illegal acts.
And the political leadership of Albania
should empower the institutions that seek
justice; empower the prosecutors who go
after the criminals; and, should make clear
that whoever the suspect is, regardless of
wealth, regardless of family ties, regardless
of political connections, is subject to prosecution.
Let me cite one case as an example of
what I mean: I was very pleased that in the
most recent the Human Rights report, the
HRR for 2007, there were no reports of violence
against journalists. However, the day
before the report was released, a member of
parliament Tom Doshi, beat a journalist for
asking tough questions. Next year's human
rights report will not give Albania a passing
mark in that category. An investigation into
the case has been promised but no further
word has been forthcoming.
I cannot judge whether Mr. Doshi was
guilty or innocent in what he did but my
question is will there be a fair hearing? And
I also ask the question: What is the media
doing? The media has an important role,
particularly in protecting one of its own. As
far as I am aware no newspaper reported this
incident until days after it occurred; my question
is: are they following it now? And is it
not their duty to be following up?
The second theme that I would like to
discuss is public responsibility. And by that
I mean citizens who see corruption or victims
of corruption, protesting it, criticizing
it, exposing the incidents of corruption, demanding
more of the leadership to do something
about corruption. The professions can
police their own; the professions can assist
in eliminating corruption from within the
profession.
For example, if nothing happens to the
doctor who takes bribes, the names of hundreds
of doctors who save lives is smeared.
If nothing happens to the judge who
drives a 30,000 Euro Touareg, the names of
judges who issue fair and just decision every
day, is smeared.
If nothing happens to the police officers
who tip criminals of upcoming police raids,
the whole 15,000 police officers force is
smeared and weakened.
If nothing happens to the official who one
day wakes up rich, the entire public administration
is smeared and weakened.
I do not accept the answer that there is
nothing that can be done about corruption.
None can convince me that what are
called "t롦ort뢠in this country are more
powerful than the thousands of parents who
want decent education for their children or
for young people like yourselves who want
to live here in a free, open, and honest society.
If people take charge, good things happen.
I heard the story of a hospital administrator
in a northern city who learned that
the nurses were demanding bribes to tell
patients where the doctors' offices were
located. She simply put up signs showing
the way to the Doctors' office and that reduced
the bribes.
I heard of one agency that issues a certain
documents that ended the problem of
people jumping the queue through payment
of a bribe by setting up an appointment system:
a person arrived at a certain time, met a
relevant officer, and paid no bribes.
What is the importance of a citizen taking
responsibility - let me read a quote by a
very respected Albanian Anton Harapi who
said this before he was executed in 1947 -
"Do you know that the foundations of a
building are laid in the ground? Even though
buried we have to be the foundation of the
building we call Albania."
Corruption is not a game; it is a war.
There is one and only one reason for the
words I told you today: and that is because I
know you can win that war, because my government
wants you to win that war and because
every Albanian wants to win.
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                    [post_content] => By EDI RAMA
We have turned a leaf on a new chapter in our history. We are invited to return to our natural family. The Albanian people were extended historical support of the United States and its Euro-Atlantic allies, while Albanian politics was charged with a new duty, which for us socialists and progressive forces, is a brand new challenge; Joining NATO in 2009!
The road traversed to reach the current point is evidence in itself of the cost the Albanian people have paid for the obsolete politics of the divide and rule of the Albanians, simply for the sake of the interests of the politicians and to the detriment of the interests of the country and people. Way back in 1992 Albania was summoned to the Council of Cooperation of the North Atlantic Treaty, but it took no less than another sixteen years for the much-desired invitation to be extended, although the Albanian citizens, socialist and democrat alike, have never lost sight of their aspirations for Albania to join NATO.
Therefore, at the moment of the crowning of an important component of the mission of our generation, it is a day on which we can be proud of the contribution of the Socialist Party, which, via an entirely new policy for an Albania torn asunder by the old politics, initiated, led and enabled a political process where the strategic and fundamental interests of the country can not be interfered with or threatened by the interests of the partisan estimates of a given moment. 
This is the day when socialist and democrat citizens alike, all over Albania, but also throughout the world, felt the hand that defends the Free World on their shoulder; the hand that is raised to halt evil in its tracks whenever the values of democracy of the countries of NATO come under threat, or peace and security of our planet; the hand that the old politics prevented us from shaking many years ago.
It is in the interests of Albania and of the Albanian citizens to radically reform the system of representation and the entire electoral infrastructure. We will represent this interest with devotion and resolve and we will request that the other side meets all its obligations as well, because we are convinced that the more free and fair elections are, the more spectacular our victory will be; and the more guaranteed the will of the sovereign people is against the ugly tradition of vote distortion; the more stable and qualitative our government will be and the better defended our citizens will be from the perils of today.
Without doubt this is a Fine Hour in our history, which in the past brutally divided us from our natural family of the people alongside whom we fought, shoulder to shoulder in World War Two. That war remains our brilliant page of the XX Century, which always makes us feel such great pride for our veterans, before whom we bow our heads in profound respect in this our Fine Hour. Other pages leading up to the Hour of Liberty of December 1990 are dark and painful, saturated in blood and tears, martyrs, innocent victims who have such dramatic histories, the unpaid sweat and toil of an entire people, who for forty five years achieved an enormous volume of slave labour throughout the whole of Albania. Seventeen years after the collapse of the communist regime, today our people have the legitimate right to savour this Fine Hour, which back in that distant December we all expected would come much earlier.
Yes, we can enjoy this Fine Hour together and hope for a future where the life of every Albanian woman and man will be a good life, protected against the dangers that threaten us all today due to the absence of a functioning State; a life replete with opportunities and possibilities to fulfill dreams and desires, natural ambitions which today, for the majority of us, remain mere attempts, because of an old and obsolete kind of politics, that for seventeen consecutive years became an impediment to the development of democracy, individual freedoms and equality before the Law.
In this Fine Hour we cannot close the eyes of our hearts of Albania today without remembering all the lives lost on the job, on the streets, at family celebrations; because only by looking towards the future through the eyes of our minds and at the present through the eyes of our hearts, will we be able to clearly discern that between us and the future we want for our children, stand the obsolete politics of the past and a Prime Minister, who would have lent dignity to the Government of the Albanians in this historical moment for all of them, if he had stepped down following the explosive collapse of his government, precisely in the name of those new political and moral standards that Albania and her people today deserve.
Today, the problem we face is putting justice in place and for every damaged family and/or individual to restart life as usual; our job is to carry to every village and township, to every city quarter and to every door, the message of a new unification to close the chapter of old politics of the past and to pave the new road of the future by means of a policy which has eyes for looking, ears for listening and a heart for feeling the pain, the problems and the desires of people, the means to make European Albania a reality, constructing Europe in our villages and towns, in our kindergartens, schools, hospitals, in our homes where no parent should feel reluctant to spend the money on a birthday gift for his/her child, this is our victory!
We will win for those who did not manage it through to this Fine Hour. We are going to win for all the children of Albania, so that the future can be their lives. We will win for all the young men and women of Albania, in town and countryside, so that they don't have to flee their country of birth and abandon the property of their parents, but receive sound schooling here and build a worthy life, making an outstanding contribution and taking produce from the soil of Albania, which today is all purchased many miles away. We will win for all the parents of Albania who, in this Fine Hour on which the sun is now setting, frown with concern on the routine of the new day that dawns with its high prices, the power bills, medicine prescriptions they can't afford, the long queues of unemployed, all the land now barren or with no access to irrigation, they frown because of the lack of hope that weighs so heavily on their mornings.
The invitation to join NATO, is not the end, but the beginning of a new chapter of relations and obligations that must be fulfilled before Albania is accepted, as an equal amongst equals, at the tables of the NATO member countries. And Albania, all of us, will be assessed not on what we say and will say in the future, but on what we do and will do in the future. Precisely because, whether in Opposition or in Government we will do everything we say and because we are ready to uphold this historical responsibility, next year Albania will be admitted into NATO, we will be governing it and it will feel sound and safe on the job, in the street and in celebration.
                    [post_title] =>  The Return to the Folds of the Natural Family 
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                    [post_content] => Foreign Minister Lulzim Basha stated at the 12 Annual Economist Government Roundtable "Driving the Global Agenda Through 2020" that the NATO invitation to Albania and the Kosovar indepepedence were the main events in this part of Europe that were increasing its peace and stability in the former war-torn region.
Following is his speech at the event.

Let me first say that only a few days ago, the Bucharest Summit extended to Albania and Croatia the official invitation to join NATO;this is momentous event for my country and its history. 
Meanwhile, the Declaration of 17 February 2008 proclaimed Kosovo an independent and sovereign state. It goes beyond doubt that these two events are the most significant developments in Southeast Europe, whose impact exceeds the regional borders. 
Albania strongly believes that, in essence, NATO enlargement toward the Balkans represents the enhancement of the space of freedom, stability and security; accordingly, it signifies the shrinkage and the diminishment of the space of instability and insecurity in this region. In this sense, we fully support the Declaration of Bucharest Summit and in view of the EU and NATO political strategies, we are ready to render our own modest contribution for the integration of our neighbours in these structures. Only a clear and all-inclusive perspective for the membership to NATO and the EU could finally pacify the Balkans, safeguard its stability and, in the long run, even the European stability.
The invitation for membership to Albania and Croatia proves that the warnings on " the enlargement fatigue" were unfounded. The NATO "open door policy" is the only correct and realistic policy of mutual geo-strategic and geo-political benefits, both for NATO and its new Member States, or even those aspiring for their integration to the Organization. The message is important and evident: the path to NATO is open for each country, once they comply with the membership criteria and standards; the latter are met not only through military, but also through political and economic reforms, painstaking, as they often are. Nevertheless, these reforms are worth the costs, since ultimately, the countries performing them would line up with the forces of peace, liberty and progress.
We think that our togetherness at this missionary process is the most correct and the fastest track in ensuring stability and development for our countries and the region as a whole. True, this is not a single track process; what counts most, however, is that we have all agreed to encounter these challenges together, to share the experiences and the obtained experience, welcoming and commending the assistance of our Euro - Atlantic partners. 
Albania has made notable progress vis - a - vis its integration reforms. The relevant legal frame is already laid down fitted to the integration needs. Structural reforms have been unveiled, focusing particularly on the fair and transparent privatization of the major national assets and on setting up efficient mechanisms of order and law enforcement.
The Stabilization and Association Process, whereby other countries of the region take part, has defined a frame of concrete commitments and a clear perspective, not only in economic, but also in security terms.
Albania's economy is developing with a steady annual rate of 6 per cent, keeping inflation under control, at 2.9%. Compared to 2006, exports went up by 28%, whereas foreign investments grew by 87%; The administrative costs declined from 3 to 2.1 % of the GDP. The Government policies, intertwined with the uncompromising fight against corruption, smuggling and fiscal evasion have led to the growth of budget revenues with nearly one billion US Dollars as against the year 2006, at a time when Albania is the country with the lowest fiscal burden in Europe.
Nearly 205 criminal groups were cracked down and 850 persons were brought to justice in 2007. 
These achievements of my country's democratic progress and development are also a contribution to the region as a whole.
The implementation of common projects and strategies is assuming an increasing significance in terms of regional cooperation. In this way, our economies become ever more competitive, but also more complementary to each other; hence, we could make our energy and telecommunciation systems better inter-connected and our transport roads more modern and integrated. 
We believe in a world which is becoming increasingly global; therefore, through our policies we try to follow up the global trends. Our countries are small and incapable of competing alone. Individually, the markets of our countries are small-sized and not competitive. Nonetheless, together - with integrated transport, energy, telecommunication and markets, we may be more capable, more serious to ourselves, to each other, to our regional and extra-regional partners.
Our regional cooperation is dictated not only by the immediate interests or the economic benefits, but also by the long-term necessity to face the common challenges - combating terrorism, organized crime, illicit traffics and others. In this regard, as a serious and loyal partner, Albania is ready to offer its own contribution to meet all these challenges. 
I believe I share the same view with most of You that it would be pretty hard to imagine the currect stage of development in our region without NATO's presence. Here, I have in mind, first and foremost, the developments in Kosovo.
We consider the founding of the independent and sovereign state of Kosovo as an historic event; it provides more freedom, security and stability to the Balkans. The Republic of Kosovo becomes a worthy actor in the international arena, with a clear European and Atlantic orientation, an important factor of peace, stability, security, harmonious development and integration in Southeast Europe.
Kosovo is an independent country now and this is a fact that nobody can prevent it. Countries that represent 70 per cent of the GDP of the globe have recognized it.
Last year I have seen our colleague and friend, Vuk Jeremic wake up every morning trying to prevent it. He has employed the best of his efforts and elloquence in any form to stop the independence of Kosovo, he has spared no effort but he has failed and nothing could be done about it. It was not You or President Tadic who lost Kosovo; it was the radical nationalists with their 19th century nationalism that lost Kosovo and their impact upon the whole Balkan countries. In this view and for the sake of freedom and stability, we have made all efforts so that Kosovo be a safe place.
We are convinced that Kosovo's case is unique and the applied solution is also unique - (a) Kosovo is an outcome of the dismemberment of a state that has ceased to exist; (b) Kosovo used to be a constituent part of a state that broke up through violence ( c)Kosovo's population was subject to a systematic cruel discrimination; the latter is a typical feature of colonial countries, which frequently assumed the proportion of a state genocide; it reached its peak during the tragic events in 1999, when over a million of Albanian Kosovars were forced to leave their own lands; nearly 10.000 were murdered and over 3.000 other persons are considered as disappeared even to date; (d) as of the year 1999, pursuant to the UN Security Council Resolution 1244, Kosovo is under the administration of the UN International Mission; in practical terms, it implies that Serbia has been "de facto" stripped away of its sovereignty over Kosovo; (dh) The Ahtisaari Plan, which stands on the foundations of the post-status Kosovo was developed while taking into account the local circumstances and the sensibilities there. 
All these specifics have made the UN secretary general, the NATO secretary general, the High representative and Secretary general of the Council of European Union and other authorities to state that Kosovo a unique or " sui generis" case, which does not and cannot serve as a pattern for other conflicts, neither in the Balkans nor in other regions of the world; henceforth, it is far from being a destabilizing element.
We have applauded and at the same time encouraged the Kosovo political factor to retain the calmness, maturity and self-restraint, so as to avoid any provocation and to carry on its cooperation with the international factor, the representatives and citizens of entire Kosovo and the minorities, in particular. Simultaneously, we have called on the Belgrade authorities to adhere to their own commitments to avoid violence and we demand the same from Serbs in Kosovo.
Unfortunately, the developments on the ground show that certain segments of politics in Belgrade and a part of Serbs in Kosovo are not holding on to these commitments. The repeated violent actions, the presentation of partition plans on ethnic grounds and even the calls to infringe the territorial integrity of independent Kosovo state pose a serious threat to peace, security and stability, not only in Kosovo, but throughout the region.
Viewed from this perspective, the Declaration of Bucharest Summit on developments in Kosovo assumes a special significance. NATO's engagement in support of a democratic, multi-ethnic, stable and peaceful Kosovo, as well as its appeal to all regional actors to avert actions and rhetoric that undermine security in Kosovo or other parts of the region, make us firmly believe on a soft and peaceful transition process in Kosovo; certainly, the outcome would be the consolidation of its vision of stability and the stability of the region as a whole.
Finally, a few words about our Euro - Atlantic perspective. True, it was a dream for us all, it was a dream for Albania to be part of NATO. But it is not a dream any more, it is a reality. A reality that we chose and worked hard for. The results of our coutries are the results of painstakling reforms. Reforms that requre political courage and sacrifices. Therefore, I would compare the European and Euro - Atlantic perspective of the region with a faith. It is a politial faith that strengthens the believers and their self - confidence. That is why I take this opportunity from this stage to once again call on all of us, countries of Western Balkans to place our faith in European integration, as the only alternative for the region.
Address of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Lulzim Basha, at the 12 Annual Economist Government Roundtable "Driving the Global Agenda Through 2020" 
                    [post_title] =>  NATO invitation - a momentous event for Albania, says minister 
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                    [post_content] => By Sali Berisha

Allow me to express my deepest gratitude, to you, the leaders of NATO member countries, for the historic decision you made today, to invite Albania to become a member of the most successful political-military Alliance that time has known. For Albanians, that so much have suffered and sacrificed for their freedom and dignity, and today support membership of their country into NATO by more than 95%, your decision here in Bucharest opened an era of secured freedom and the secure future they deserve.
The history of my country is the one of survival. The freedom and the future are one and indivisible. But, with your decision to invite Albania, you decided the return of the Albanians, one of the most ancient inhabitants of the continent, to the family of the Euro-Atlantic nations, with whom we share the century old values of our civilization.
The decision of the Heads of State and Governments of the NATO member states to invite Albania today, is the appreciation and affirmation of the efforts and achievements of the Albanians to transform Albania from a country of totalitarian dictatorship, deep isolation, complete hypercollectivization, forbidden rights and freedoms, to a country of political pluralism and functional democracy, rule of law, free market economy, a country, which during the last 15 years has established a loyal and comprehensive cooperation with the North Atlantic Alliance.
Our servicemen are stationed together with your troops in Kabul and Herat and will be wherever NATO needs them.
With your decision you commended these achievements, and I want to express my deepest gratitude towards your nations and countries, for the solidarity and overall assistance they have given us in our path to build freedom and its values in our country. My deepest gratitude goes to NATO, its Secretary General and his team, for the very valuable assistance they have given us to make this possible
With your decision you have placed great confidence on us. But I would like to take a solemn oath before you today that we value this trust, above all, as a great responsibility of my nation towards your nations to carry out every reform, adopt and implement any decision and law to reach and consolidate the political, social, economic and military standards of NATO member states.
One of the greatest truths we have learned is that the reforms are the real "perpetuum mobile" of the free society. They will be such for our society as well.
By expressing once again my appreciation to all of you and your countries for the historic decision you made today, I avail of the opportunity to close with a personal feeling:
In this Palace, the story of which is very well known, a country that was ruled by the most ruthless dictator of post-war Europe, who, for more than four decades, put up so many bunkers in the cities, villages, valleys, mountains and hills of the country that, were they assembled in one place, it would suffice to build the pyramids of Egypt, twice, is invited today to become member of NATO!
For me this is a miracle, the miracle of freedom!
Prime Minister Sali Berisha's speech at the NATO Bucharest Summit
                    [post_title] =>  Albania's NATO membership invitation - a miracle 
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                    [post_date] => 2008-04-04 02:00:00
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                    [post_content] => By Bamir Topi
Today my country is signing the most important act in its history; today the Albanian people is finally departing from the past of Yalta and Potsdam; Albania in a very dignifying way is successfully demonstrating that freedom and democracy can be transformed into virtues also in the country where not even two decades ago, the harshest dictatorship of the post Second World War history had transformed the violation of freedom and right into an institution.
As the President of Albania, I would like to thank all those friendly countries that believed on the sincere Euro-Atlantic request and wish of the Albanian people and supported it. This dream which was naturally born in the very first days of the liberation of the Albanian society from Communism came true today in Bucharest.
The whole Albanian society, Albanian politics, media and representatives of civil society in Albania are determined and responsible to support the accession of their country to NATO.
Albania is already on its irreversible way towards building a democratic state and Rule of Law. We are determined not to stop in front of this challenge, in the name of a better, safer and prosperous future for our children, where any sacrifice is justified.
The important political and economical reforms undertaken by Albania in the judicial system, in the electoral system, in the security system, the reforms in the Armed Forces, in modernizing the institutions, the reforms to eradicate corruption and the fight against organized crime which are the contribution of all the political forces: of the ruling majority and opposition as well, of all the governments since 1992, but especially of the very Albanian people are irreversible, fundamental and indispensable processes also for an Alliance member country.
I consider the decision taken by the Alliance today as an appreciation and trust upon the entire up to the present, all sided, serious and multilevel engagement of my country, and as a major obligation that we have in front of both the friendly Alliance member countries and the Albanian people as well.
Albania is ready to become an important part of security and democracy policies of the Alliance, not only on regional level, but also on the global one as well.
The extension of NATO on the Balkans space remarkably thaws the insecurity space within the European continent. It offers the assurance of long-term security and of development and prosperity and helps to democratize the Balkans countries by showing them the sole right path to depart from their past of inter-ethnic animosity.
Albania, through its regional Euro-Atlantic policy will support the integration of the Republic of Kosova in the security and development spaces and will be ready to offer its individual contributions within the NATO and European Union policies for the integration of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia.
The regional crisis, political or economical, the violation of human rights by dictatorial regimes, underdevelopment, poverty and hunger, which threaten millions of people, the inter-ethnic and inter-cultural conflicts and the international terrorism and global warming threaten the future of humankind and try to ruin the tendency and balance of the sustainable development and security of international relations. All these major challenges demand immediate and determined answers - answers that must be constructed and articulated based on the contributions and participation of interests which are not only individual, but global as well. Internal or external insecurity is a virus from which no one enjoys a long-term immunity. Albania is ready not only to become part but also to offer its values in enriching and preserving the global values of civilizations.
The Albanian people today is alongside those countries and peoples who use as compass of their national development the values of democracy and freedom to build a brighter future not only for their respective societies, but for all world societies and nations. We are proud and at the same time, aware and responsible of this act.

President  Bamir Topi's speech held at the Bucharest summit
                    [post_title] =>  Albania's most important act in recent history - NATO membership invitation 
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            [6] => WP_Post Object
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                    [ID] => 104098
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                    [post_date] => 2008-03-29 01:00:00
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2008-03-29 01:00:00
                    [post_content] => Michael Haltzel, Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations of Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, gives an exclusive interview to the Tirana Times. Haltzel also delivered one of the key speeches at the International Conference "The Security and Development Agenda of the Western Balkans", organised by Albanian Institute for International Studies on 15 March 2008. Tirana Times interviewed Dr. Haltzel on that occasion.

- What are the chances  of Albania to join NATO?
- The chances for Albania getting an invitation are better than fifty-fifty. I think Albania has made big strides in the last decade. This is the first time I have been back since 1998 and  I can see huge progress. It has a long way to go obviously. I think the biggest challenge is fighting corruption. Everyone knows that. You're not ranking in the Transparency International so good. But 2007 Freedom House report gave to Albania a positive overall which is a trend because of Albania's efforts to fight corruption. So, that's positive. 
Albania's strongest asset in the campaign to get a NATO membership invitation is that this country has been extraordinary willing to show its loyalty to the Alliance  even before being a member by sending troops to Afghanistan and now even to  Iraq.
I get the sense that democracy is taking root, that's good. Albania has made a  peaceful transference of power. There is a very active political landscape. It is not only about Albania but I think politics still seems to revolve under personalities to  a huge amount. In every country, personalities matter. Even in my own country, everybody is looking for presidential race largely in terms of personalities. That I  would think is a negative side. But in general, the political climate in Albania is calmer than before. 
Back to your question, no one knows what are Albania's chances but my guesses are than they will be better than fifty-fity but no means that is not a sue thing.
	
- In your view, what do Albania, Croatia and Macedonia benefit from joining NATO and vice-versa?
- They share values. NATO is a political military Alliance. The common values are important to NATO. The biggest argument for NATO enlargement, starting in 1999 with Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to continue in 2004 with seven other countries, has been the extending of grey zones which are a recipe for disaster. I wish our Russian friends could have understood that better. So, weak unstable governments, weak unstable countries breed problems whether it is smuggling or trafficking and a series of other things. Obviously getting in the NATO is a powerful signal to the rest of the world that these countries are joining the club. It is a seal of the approval. It is not that this means you are perfect. No country is perfect. But it shows you've reached a certain level of achievement, maturity, democracy and social stability and that the army is ready to contribute to the security of Northern Atlantic area.
If Albania gets in the NATO, I suspect that it will have a great psychological effect. It will attract foreign investments. In fact, you are already contributing to NATO as Albania is striking to show that it wants to defend the security of the Northern Atlantic area.

- Kosovo is an independent country now. What do you think about the situation there?
- I am not so happy about the situation there. The international community did the right thing as well as the countries which recognized Kosovo. I understand Serbian feeling of anguish and bitterness but you know they misruled and thye prsecuted the people for years. So, I don't like their behavior. They seem to overrule the territory but they do not want to give people, 90 percent of people there the rights of citizens. Why  did not allow the Kosovar Albanians to vote in the referendum on new serving Constitution in December 2006? 
I would hope that eventually Serbia and Kosovo will join the EU in the same way I wish Albania joins the EU or Montenegro joins the EU. When this happens, the border between Kosovoand Serbia will become pretty much irrelevant. That's hard to explain that to people because they do not think in long term. But that's the reality. 

- Do you think the parallel institutions will continue to function in the North of Kosovo ?
- I think that the game plan for the Serbs. Partition has always been the goal. When I was in the US government in 2002, Prime Minister ZHivkov came to the town and he openly said that partition was the goal. Realistically the Serbs' plan was partition. 

- What are the challenges of EU and USA in Kosovo?
- I think the challenges are two-folded. We have to help the Kosovo government implement the Ahtisaari plan. It is a good plan. We have to help the government in every way to educate the judiciary and make them able to get off on their feet to have a smoothly functioning democracy. 
Secondly, I would hope to bring the North under the control of the whole country.

How do you predict Serbia's future?
- I think in long term, Serbia will become a EU member country and will turn away from the absolutely self-defeating policies of the radicals, Nikolic and Kostunica. How long is that going to take? That depends on the Serbian people. The idea of turning it to Russia brings no future. If Serbia wants to be like Belarus, fine but I don't think this is gone happen. The Serb people are too intelligent for that choice

- What will happe if Tadic win in the next general parliamentary elections? If Nikolic?
- Serbia has elections in May 2008. I really hope that Tadic wins these elections. If he forms a government, then this will be important that the EU makes clear that he wants to bring Serbia back on the track to get into the EU. But Serbia must stop meddling in Kosovo. If Nikolic wins, then Serbia can kiss its EU ambition goodbye. They have to make the choice. 
Still one should not deem Serbia for the Serbian people. There are thousands of Serbian people who are not violent, who are democratic, want to have peaceful solution, want to join the EU. Such people are even in the highest state levels, I am talking about Tadic, Serb Foreign Minister, high ranking military people at the defense department who absolutely are western-supportive. In democracy, the majority wins. I hope these people get the majority. 
                    [post_title] =>  Interview: Albania - extraordinary willing to show its loyalty to NATO 
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                    [post_date] => 2008-03-21 01:00:00
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                    [post_content] => By Ardian Klosi
One's initial reaction to a disaster of such magnitude is to seek its cause in an Act of God. If it is not nature, only the State can be nowadays this force majeur. Therefore, in almost all the disasters our country has experienced over the past years- and more than a few of them have occurred- the citizens have pointed the finger of accusation in one direction alone- that of the State. In their grief, which is unbounded and unabated, people point instinctively to a culprit, which is also unbounded in how it can mete out and in its unknown and darkest depths: to the direction of the State.
The Tragedy of G쳤ec has a definite and mammoth perpetrator: the Albanian Government. Maybe, there are other perpetrators of a lesser magnitude, lets say, a worker who smoked a cigarette standing right next to the crates of gunpowder. However, this becomes almost insignificant in the face of the principal question: Who are those individuals who took the decision to establish such hazardous ammunition dismantling workshop right in the middle of such a heavily populated area as Vora? Why was the workshop established in Vora, and was the choice of place influenced by its proximity to the International Airport at Rinas? We all know how very lucrative the weapons and ammunition trade is; was this "factory" in the business? If it was, did the government officials know? Were they involved in this business? Today, these are the questions that can begin to shed light on a bloody racket, which can never be as simple as a mere contract signed by the government with a private sub-contractor, who is allegedly to be blamed for all the rest.
This is what Berisha said at the outset: "Ůfrom the moment when the Ministry of Defence signed the contract with a private company, this private company must be the subject of investigation." However, later on, he obviously understood that this was an unintelligent justification and requested Minister Mediu to hand in his resignation. However, the resignation will be worthless, if there is no thorough analysis and investigation. First of all, to return to the principal question: Who approved the opening of this deadly business in the heart of Vora, in one of the most densely populated areas of the Republic? Did the former Minister of Defence Mediu really sign off on this without the knowledge of the Prime Minister?
Mr. Berisha must stop talking about, "respect for a private business and contracts," when citizens' lives, their welfare and environment are at stake! Meanwhile, the now resigned Minister of Defence, Mediu told us some days ago that it is still too early to look for the perpetrators, first of all the community needs help. However, one day later he understood it was not at all too early to search for those responsible. To provide assistance to the families, whose lives and homes were ripped asunder is one thing, and to shed light on the truths of how this disaster happened is another thing altogether. Throughout the whole world, such calamities simultaneously initiate action in both directions. The first aspect is humanitarian while the second one is the operation to eradicate the iniquity. In the future, such important decisions must never be left in the hands of individuals so cruelly insensitive and irresponsible for the lives of their fellow citizens. Or any decision making they do, must be subjected to such stringent control that they finally comprehend they are there to serve and not to rule, they are there to check things out, and not to sell and enrich themselves, as they have obviously believed up until this day.
                    [post_title] =>  Eradicating the Roots of Evil 
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                    [post_date] => 2008-03-21 01:00:00
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2008-03-21 01:00:00
                    [post_content] => By Alba ȥla
One of the participating movies in Tirana Film Festival 07, a Kosovar production which was praised and prized quite highly was 'The Iron Mungary'. The movie features a father and a son who collect scrap metal to sell and make a living. The only ray of light in their family is their son's schooling. The school is organizing an event in which it will inaugurate a bronze statue honoring the national hero to which it owns its name. However, the father, upon learning that bronze is sold at profitable prices, steals the bronze head to use it as scrap. 
This Saturday a powerful blast rocked Tirana, the one-million Albanian capital city from its physical, mental and political foundations. The death toll kept rising ever since as if the crater of Gerdec, formed by the explosion of thousands of tons of ammunition, was sucking in the human lives and hopes of the inhabitants, passer-bys and the population at large. After the first dust settled on the death fields still covered by dangerous unexploded shells, a vast array of public actors such as analysts and opposition politicians rushed to point blame fingers and sought transparency, responsibility and accountable investigation.
Colored metal such as bronze yields better profits for scrap metal traders. 'Alba demil' head, former fiscal evasion convict, former excavator driver, Mihal Delijorgji knew this. Cheap uninsured labor especially from minors and women adds up to the bottom-line. He knew this too. Some of these generous profits have to be shared with supporting actors in the high level decision-making field. So far so good. Delijorgji did not appear recently, he has always been there, the emigrant laundering money, the businessman climbing the stairs of power, stepping on the hands of those 13 year olds who disassembled weapons in Gerdec, to reach the power-brokers. Mihal Delijorgji is not an individual, he is a phenomenon. This is Mihal Delijorgji's state, the rest of us are just living [and dying!] in it.
Some months ago a powerful explosion demolished the burning furnace of the Kurum steel factory in Elbasan. It also hurt the lives of the employees on the site. One of the investigation paths claimed that there was a shell among the scrap metal that was melting in the heat. People shrugged their shoulders, narrowed their eyes and said "What kind of animal would purposefully put a shell in the metal?" Got it now? 
The bronze selling kind, both business and political species.
The mountains of Albania were not enough for the state of Delijorgji, its safe military zones in remote areas where nobody lives were no good. Where would the fun be? The site had to be conveniently located close to the airport to host the complacent American partners under whose name they took warm shelter. It had to be right there by the only highway so it could be easily assembled and transported perhaps to Elbasan to the furnaces of metal. It had to be right in the middle of an intensely populated industrial area from which to draw convenient labor, to abuse the ignorance and poverty of the mob, few kilometers from the capital. If Delijorgji had to collapse, the state, the airport, the highway, the people would have to go down with it. It was only natural.
The Albanian state does exist. Contrary to what its critics say, its presence is felt. It kills its constituents and then weeps for them. It is the father who robs his son of all future dreams, plans and opportunities or a better life. It trades bronze shells at the price of life.
                    [post_title] =>  The price is life 
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                    [post_author] => 68
                    [post_date] => 2008-03-07 01:00:00
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2008-03-07 01:00:00
                    [post_content] => Firstly I would like to wholeheartedly thank you for the invitation and opportunity extended to me to address, as you already mentioned, this excellent audience regarding the viewpoint of the President of the Republic about the domestic and foreign policies of Albania. Availing myself of this opportunity, I would like to state that the policies of Albania in both domestic and foreign levels are important institutional policies, are policies which in no way cannot be based upon individual wills, where all the distinguished representatives of state structures and politics have become part of this wonderful symphony where the Albanian state is increasingly day by day being represented better. Keeping in mind the expression that you used about small or big states, we are truly small in the geographical sense, but our continuous aspiration has been and will be that we like to make friends, it does not matter small or big friends, but what is important is that Albania today is not alone. It is part of the international institutional policies and I believe what clearly expresses the position of Albania and its institutions are the powerful aspiration held by Albania and Albanian society first of all and its institutions to be part of the Euro-Atlantic world.
I am here today in this Forum with my wish, which for you is familiar for quite some times, but especially after my election to the post of the President of the Republic, to hold, urge and expand the democratic debate on very important issues for the future of Albania. I am very convinced that democracy, in order to be developed, to be strengthened and to grow healthy, must be enriched through a debate where not only the politicians must participate, not only the media, not only the civil society, not only our international friends, but also and especially the public and citizens of Albania. The society which we are striving to build needs the contribution of all. We are obliged to listen to the views of all, to the concerns of all, to the assessments of all for what we do and then create the political, economical, social, educational and health strategies to truly build a deserved state where every one can feel that his place is the merit of value and not anti-values and where everyone believes that there is a future for him and his children.
Albania must return to Europe. The aspiration will remain for it to become part as soon as possible institutionally as well of the great European family, to which it belongs both historically and geographically and from its spiritual vocation.
Albania is already on the right path towards being integrated in the European family and closer to the Euro-Atlantic family integration. In order to safely progress on this path, we are all conscious and determined about the reforms we must undertake through a loyal and constructive cooperation.
The pace of the steps for Albania, which are already determined by the Association-Stabilization Agreement, is indispensable to be respected by all and the fulfillment of obligations stemming from the Interim Agreement must sensitize everyone. We are all conscious that there is no time to waste. The ratifying of the Association-Stabilization Agreement by only fifteen EU member countries is encouraging, but is not enough. All the structures of our state must work for the ratification by the other EU member countries to be concluded by the first semester of 2008 and then to seek the status of the candidate country for which we are more than prepared.
I consider as a very qualitative step in the relations with the European Union, the Agreement to facilitate the visas' procedures for the Albanian citizens. I lay in wait of the concrete results from the implementation of these measures for our citizens. Our proper structures must follow attentively the implementation of this Agreement in order to enable us the proposal of other facilitating steps in a not so distant future. But on the other hand we have to be conscious that Albania must establish as soon as possible standards to equip its citizens with identification cards.
I am very committed to give the maximal contribution to the political emancipation required by the country, by encouraging the spirit of political dialogue, cooperation among the political parties aiming to urge the carrying out of all the reforms required by the development of the country and our Euro-Atlantic engagements. The electoral reform and the judicial one are the most important reforms under our conditions. The President will be the guarantor of the correct institutional relation demanded by the opposition and the guarantor of the constitutional respect and upholding of the laws.
The judicial reform is one of the issues at the focus of attention not only of the Albanian politics, but above all of the Albanian society, of common people. It consists for Albania not only one of the obligations that stem from the Association-Stabilization Agreement, but also a political priority to be fulfilled for NATO integration as well. The President in his quality also as the Chairman of the High Council of Justice judges that the continuation of the reform in the judiciary must adapt to the democratic developments of the country. During these years there have been many laws passed but there are still many problems. We must try in a short-term period to achieve concrete results and required standards. This demands a new seriousness based upon the expressed political will by all the sides. Lastly I am glad to notice that in the Assembly of Albania, the proper Commission has begun the political debate which very soon must be translated into professional reforms.
The reform in the electoral system is important as well, not only for the fact that it is a precondition to our NATO and EU integration. It is necessary as the norm of the democratic state and Rule of Law where the vote of every citizen is neither deformed nor stolen, but it is respected and reflected in the elected structures by regaining this way the lost faith of our citizens on politics.
The Albanians expect from politics to enable them to live better, to feel safer and integrated and the fulfillment of such aspirations is the obligation of all, especially of the Albanian politicians and state. This must also be our main motivation to face the challenges of reforms and to give a real and quick impetus to the processes of democratic consolidation, to the Rule of Law, regional cooperation and Euro-Atlantic integration.
The determined fight and free of political colors against corruption in politics, administration, society, the battle against organized crime and trafficking of human beings, deformations of the fundamental principle of property are challenges of the European future of our country. I invite all to be united in a joint front and overcome those challenges. I invite all with full transparency to prove in front of our future that all these phenomena are not tendencies of our society, but only its passing illnesses.
In a general assessment, the economy of Albania, although it is facing the consequences of the global energy crisis, is characterized by a stable macro-economic situation. The Albanian exports are enjoying an increasing tendency and direct foreign investments are high by giving hope for a continuous stabilization. Albania is being placed under the focus of interest from powerful foreign investors who are participating in important projects of the Albanian economy: such as in energy, mining, commercial banks, tourism and infrastructure. The fiscal reform of this year with the flat tax of 10%, the lowest one in all the European countries, and the founding of the domestic business registering Agency in the One-stop-shop system create the ground to attract foreign investments and support the domestic business. This positive climate produced a successful tourism season for Albania with an increase of the tourists' number compared to last year.
I judge that the economic policies must be oriented first of all towards the long-term amortizing of the power crisis consequences and prevention of possible crisis in the future. Today we are at a moment when, just to add a brief comment, we cannot talk only by using positive notes about economy: naturally we talk positively for its tendency. Today there is an ongoing social debate and to go back to first phrase I used in my opening remarks: that such forums have an extraordinary importance for us all, for politicians, for parliamentarians, for the people who are involved in foreign policy, for the economists, for the academicians, but referring to a debate on the common social ground, it seems today that there are problems of the acute nature and to break free from the phraseology of the speeches regarding the economic trends, there is no way to avoid the present debate related to the price of a basic and vital element such as bread. In order not to go over board and make the discussion on a very theoretical and academic ground, it is very important for such forums to combine what is the trend of economy, which is very positive, but also many elements which the politics and state first of all need to take into consideration and offer short-term, mid-term and long-term solutions. 
Keeping in mind the fact that the private sector composes 80% of the GDP contribution of our country, the economic and financial policies must secondly encourage their positive experiences, support the projects and qualitative products, urge and encourage the domestic product and create the ground for a fair competition. Our integrating approach demands a qualitative and competing market and more and more Made in Albania products in both the regional market and beyond that.
Albania is determined to fulfill not only its political obligations in order to receive the NATO accession invitation during the April Summit in Bucharest. I deem as obligation the unwavering assessment of public opinion for the NATO accession of Albania and at the same time as a great encouragement and responsibility. A support of 90% in favor of Albania's accession to NATO is more than a plebiscitary vote, is more than a referendum: it is an unwavering trust for the future of Albania in this Alliance.
During the last fifteen years we have enjoyed a close, uninterrupted and loyal cooperation with the North Atlantic Alliance by putting in its disposition our harbors, airports and territory for training objectives and other important missions. During this collaboration process, we have acted as de facto members of the Alliance. Under this spirit we will continue also after the de jure accession in it.
The transparency and constructiveness have been fundamental characteristics of this Albania - NATO collaboration, a characteristic which was further improved and enriched especially after the Washington Summit with the creation of Membership Action Plan.
Albania is the first and sole country in the world which has successfully eliminated all its chemical weapons. The western vision of action and reforms, which has been already embraced by the entire politics and Albanian society, and the restructuring and modernization of our Armed Forces make us more and more part of the fundamental values upon which the Euro-Atlantic structures are founded. The passing of the defense budget of 2% of the GDP in 2008 was an unwavering proof of that.
I asses that contribution of our country in the fight against terrorism on both the individual and global levels through the deployment of our armed forces contingents to Iraq or Afghanistan is an indispensable part of the capacitating programs of our military structures. They must be able to face the possible regional or global risks.
Albania considers the important Adriatic 3 process as the main integrating-cooperative mechanism in the steps taken towards NATO. We remain very serious in respecting this program also as the example of the successful regional cooperation, but also believing that the invitation that we seek from the Bucharest Summit will be based especially upon the main mechanism for the assessment of the candidacies on individual achievements and performance of every candidate country.
I would like to emphasize that the good-neighborly and cooperation relations with the countries of the region are and will remain in continuity an unchangeable priority of foreign affairs policy. It is self-conscious about the need of strengthening the cooperation with the countries of the region by respecting their sovereignty and territorial integrity. This composes also the foundation of our relations will all these countries.
Albania is vitally interested for a stabilized region where peace and cooperation reign and also for sustainable positive relations with its neighbors. Albania understands the integration of the Balkans as a precondition of integration in Europe.
Personally I appreciate the recent year's tangible improvement of the political climate in the region, which is reflected in both the bilateral relations and multilateral ones. The new spirit of cooperation, the new mentality and individual contributions of each country serve to create a positive image of the region and to re-dimension its role in rapport to the main partners: the EU member countries and United States and also in a more general framework. Balkans does not suffer anymore from acute and concerning problems, but is has initiated integrating processes which require their own time to be concluded. It is no longer a field of internal conflicts or wars instigated from outside. On the contrary, the Western Balkans countries are being transformed more and more day by day into integrating and cooperating spaces that implement the global policies of security and great investments.
The European integration has already become the common language of all the countries of our region. Regardless of individual achievements or slow-downs, these countries have in front of them the same and sole way of reforms to be aligned with standards of other EU countries.
The victory of President Tadi桤uring the last presidential elections in Serbia, although it was a narrow win, besides offering a reflection of a visible political division of the Serbian society, gave him the constitutional right of European orientation of this important Western Balkans country.
We must all be interested, debate and encourage the economic dimension of regional cooperation as an indispensable ante-chamber of the integration into the European Union. The Treaty on the Energy Community has entered into effect on July 1, 2006, while the economic cooperation among our countries becomes easier also by the activation of CEFTA in the region of South Eastern Europe.
Personally I hold the view that these important regional processes of economic character cannot be met by full implementation or success if they are not accompanied by liberalizing reforms of the free movements of our citizens in our region. The unobstructed movement free of administrative barriers and inter-border restrictions besides encouraging the economic, trading and tourism development would help also the process of getting the peoples closer, knowing one another, peoples which although they are neighbors, still for centuries preserve reciprocal mentalities and prejudices.
I am optimistic that the spirit of cooperation and understanding on this issue will bear its fruits not only in the rapports with our neighboring state, Macedonia, but also with other regional countries as well.
The Albanian factor which is present in the regional countries has played an important role to increase and strengthen inter-state relations, to increase the spirit of reciprocal understanding and trust with these countries. They serve as true connecting and communication bridges between Albania and these countries. The perspective of the regional and European integration presumes the enhancement of ties and cooperation and reduction and less historical, geographical and ethnic divisions.
During this unstoppable integrating regional flow, the role of the Albanian factor has been irreplaceable. I support and commend the positions and messages that convey the spirit of institutional cooperation, commitment and action, free of nationalistic and conflicting rhetoric. They are expressions of the high responsibility of their contribution.
2008 will soon offer a new geo-political reality in our region. We are prepared for this. An independent Kosova, a state with all the characteristics of an internationally independent subject, which will be determinedly supported by Albania.
I re-enforced my conviction, especially after my visit there, that Kosova is very close to the proclamation of independence in close coordination with its international allies, that the number of countries that will recognize this new political subject will be considerable in the beginning and then it will gradually increase, that the Government of Kosova has given all the practical guarantees for the respect and preservation of national minorities, especially the Serbian one, that the independence of Kosova is the key to long-term and sustainable security in all the Western Balkans and attract foreign investors. The independence of Kosova is no longer a problem to be resolved - it is a Euro-Atlantic process which needs to be understood the right way, especially by its neighbors.
Albania will help for Kosova to overcome as soon as possible and successfully its challenge of being internationally recognized, strengthening its internal economic and political stability and becoming part of the regional integrating processes. Kosova is the last and politically still unresolved issue of an artificially build state, of a failed Yugoslavia - this is the ultimate triumph of democracy over the ruins or last throes of dictatorship in the region and this is the re-establishing of justice over wronged history. 

President Bamir Topi's speech held at the Forum on Albania's 2008 Agenda on Domestic and Foreign Policy organized by the Albanian Institute for International Studies.
                    [post_title] =>  Albania domestic and foreign policy - agenda 2008 
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            [post_author] => 68
            [post_date] => 2008-06-21 02:00:00
            [post_date_gmt] => 2008-06-21 02:00:00
            [post_content] => By Frank Ledwidge
I know many of their families. Some of them, against all reason, believe that some day their son, husband or brother will return. They have heard the stories. There is a special camp, they were taken to work in mines. Friends had seen them alive long after the kidnapping. Anything. But most mothers, fathers, sisters and wives know in their hearts that for the Serbian civilians kidnapped by the Kosovo Liberation Army there will be no return. They understand now that they are dead. But now there are new stories. Stories of butchery and organ sales. 
I know the families because for two years I was the Missing Persons Officer for the OSCE in Southern Kosovo. The majority of the missing were Kosovar Albanians murdered by Serbian security forces. We made no distinction in how cases were treated, Albanian, Serb or Roma. I am proud that I was threatened by both KLA and by Serb paramilitaries claiming that I was working 'too much with the other side'. We were proudly non-partisan.
Now though we can make a small but significant distinction. For many of the dead Kosovar Albanians there is some kind of Justice. Some Serb killers are serving long prison sentences in the Hague. Milosevic himself is dead. Others are on the run. Many bodies of missing Albanians have been recovered. Not enough justice, true, and not all the dead have been given decent burial and lie still to be discovered. At least for some there is a grave to visit and a place where families may remember.
But for the Serb missing there is no kind of justice. Very few bodies have been recovered. No graves for them. And to add to the injustice, not a single KLA leader has been convicted of their killing. The agony of their families goes on and on.
Not only have they been denied justice, but there is a new horror for their families. Allegations have now arisen that these missing men, or some of them, have been murdered for their organs. Carla del Ponte seems to have abandoned her critical faculties in believing this nonsense, let alone writing about it. In the two years I was involved in these cases, speaking to witnesses, investigators and prosecutors both in Kosovo and the Hague I heard no word of this or anything like it. This is because it never happened. 
Even to discuss this is to dignify the story with plausibility, but I will say two things. First the KLA were insufficiently well organised to operate such a complex system, with its requirement for medical precision and speed of transport. Second, this kind of allegation is what is called an 'urban myth'. Similar stories are to be found concerning traffickers of human beings, and the same considerations apply. Fiction.
Of course in Serbia, extreme nationalists love this story. They are keen at any cost to apply mud to the new Kosovo state. The same applies in Russia where the story of the KLA and the Organ transplants' is playing well.
My question to them is 'Isn't what really happened to the missing Serbs, Roma and Albanians bad enough without prolonging the agony of their families?' But they care nothing about that.
And what did really happen to these men, almost all civilians? You have seen what happened on television. Scared, terrified men many of them severely beaten and tortured led out of a bus into a forest. Screams, gunfire and then silence. You have seen it in the recently released film of the 'Skorpion' killers at Srebrenica. The only substantial difference is that the murderers I am talking about speak Albanian. If you have access to the internet you can read about it in the evidence given at the Hague in the case of the ICTY Prosecutor against Fatmir Limaj and Others (Case IT-03 -66). 
Let me be quite clear. The KLA had some fine men. The zone commander for the area I worked Ekrem Rexha, also known as Commander Drini was a brave soldier respected by his own men and his enemies alike. Very many other KLA fighters were decent men, fighting for what they believed in and defending their homes. I knew some of them. Most are now dead, killed fighting the Serbian forces or murdered like Drini by other KLA factions. 
Other 'officers' in the KLA are nothing less than a disgrace to the Albanian nation. Some of them avoided arrest altogether. Others have been to the Hague and though 'lack of evidence' have been released and have returned to political careers. Believe me there was evidence. Plenty of it.  The problem was that few people were willing to risk death to give that evidence in court. Ultimately the KLA killers have made this horrible story happen. If they had not viciously murdered so many civilians, what story would there be?  
So what should Albanians do when confronted by this kind of story? Albania is not Kosovo. It has a very long and unbroken tradition of tolerance and fair play. There are no mass graves in Albania. Real Albanians should not cry 'injustice' or 'anti-Albanian prejudice', however true this may be. Bringing actions of criminal libel against Del Ponte will serve no purpose except to attract derision. What Albanians should say, and what I say is 'lets identify the killers of these innocent men and bring them to some kind of justice, even if it is only the justice of public shame.' Whatever is done, for the sake of honour and honesty it is about time that all Albanians acknowledged that Serbs do not have the monopoly on massacre. 
            [post_title] =>  Secrets And Lies: The roots of the 'organs' controversy 
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