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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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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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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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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Tirana Shuns Greater Albania

By Ergys Gjencaj in Tirana As Kosovo’s independence looms on the horizon, Albanian politicians have been going out of their way to reject any idea of unification with the world’s soon-to-be newest state. Tirana has made it clear that the

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Kosova independence – challenges and prospects

By Veton Surroi It is being repeated, like a theatrical scene, although not with the same content, the yearend. Last year around the same period there was pressure towards President Ahtisaari not to announce his plan at the end of

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Albania in 2008

In order to understand the political developments in Albania during 2007 one has but to go for a stroll on Tirana’s main boulevard, stop in front of the Prime Minister’s office and look carefully at the Christmas tree there and

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Balkan Strongmen: exit from history

By Bernd J. Fischer It has been nearly two years since the death in The Hague of Slobodan Milosevic, the last of the twentieth century Balkan strongmen. The former leader of Serbia had been sent from Belgrade to face trial

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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
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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
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                    [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. 
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                    [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_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] => 2008-03-07 01:00:00
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                    [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_content] => By Ergys Gjencaj in Tirana 
As Kosovo's independence looms on the horizon, Albanian politicians have been going out of their way to reject any idea of unification with the world's soon-to-be newest state.
Tirana has made it clear that the creation of a Greater Albania, bringing together ethnic Albanians in the two countries, would be detrimental to the cause of EU integration for Albania, Kosovo and the entire region.
Instead, Albanian politicians, both in government and the opposition, have given their full backing to the plan presented by the former UN envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, for the internationally-supervised independence of Kosovo.
To the extent that they see any prospect for forging closer links with Kosovo's Albanians, the Tirana leadership envisages that development as part of the process of integration within the EU itself.
Even without its strong European agenda, there are reasons why Albania should be wary of any talk of unification with Kosovo, not least because it could create rivalries between the two centres of power in Tirana and Pristina.
For all these reasons Tirana dismisses the notion of a Greater Albania which, in the past it was often accused by Serbia of trying to create through inciting rebellion in Kosovo. Belgrade's accusations were levelled at an alleged plan to bring together in one state ethnic Albanians not only from Albania and Kosovo but potentially also from Macedonia, Montenegro and Greece.
Conscious that the independence of Kosovo rests on the will of the international community, Albania has been treading carefully, and subscribing to the policy of being an "actor" rather than a "factor" in the process of determining the province's future status.
On his first visit to Kosovo as Albania's head of state, last month President Bamir Topi restated that policy by saying that Kosovo should declare independence in coordination with the international factors - the US and the EU. He also voiced Tirana's caution over the timing of recognizing Kosovo's independence, implying that it would wait for the US and EU countries to do that first.
"We will be among the first, but I believe we will not be the first ... however, with the heart and soul, we will be the first," Topi told reporters after visiting the Pristina offices of the UN administration, UNMIK, which has been running Kosovo since 1999.
Topi reiterated that Albania would respect national borders when Kosovo declares its independence, and expressed the hope that "Serbia will not remain a hostage to nationalist scenarios," and would eventually recognize Kosovo's separate statehood.
Prec Zogaj, the head of the Albanian Parliament's Foreign Relations Committee, views Kosovo's declaration of independence as the culmination of a chapter in the entire region's history.
"We have been loyal in our joint declaration with the EU and the US, by restating the now famous three "nos" proposed by the international Contact Group: no to the unification of Kosovo with another country, no partition and no return to the pre-1999 situation, as the basis for a future independent Kosovo," Zogaj said, referring to the principles originally laid down by the Contact Group that brings together five Western powers and Russia. 
Zogaj argues that in the era of integration and globalization, ethnically-based states are an anachronism that creates tensions, and helps those who are trying to undermine a settlement in Kosovo.
"Whatever happens, we must not fall into such a trap," he warns. 
For the opposition, ex-Prime Minister Ilir Meta agrees that Kosovo and Albania should not be united. The leader of the Socialist Movement for Integration believes that in any case, such an idea is a project that did not come from the Albanians themselves in the first place. 
"It is an idea that sprang from Mussolini during World War Two, when he was trying to get more support from the Albanian population during the fascist invasion," says Meta, recalling the time when Albania and Kosovo were united under Italian occupation.
However, among many Albanians there is an interest in forging closer links with their fellow-Albanians in Kosovo. That was indicated during a recent debate on commercial broadcaster TV Vizion Plus when the overwhelming majority of those who sent in text messages from their mobile phones said they were in favour of some kind of union between Albania and Kosovo - as part of European integration. 
Meta argues that projects, such as a "Greater Albania" or a "Greater Serbia" have failed, and Tirana's priority is to secure rights for Albanians, wherever they live, that are in accordance with the highest European standards.
"Integration into the EU is the most important pillar of our foreign," the former prime minister says, recalling that nationalist project, such as the one the former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic pursued during the 1990s, were a tragedy for the Balkans and the Serbs in the first place.
Keeping in step with the EU's policy is crucial for Albania at a time when it is seeking candidate member status of the 27-nation bloc. But there are other, domestic reasons why the prospect of unification with Kosovo is not particularly enticing.
Some believe a Greater Albania would encourage rivalry for supremacy between the political establishments of Tirana and Pristina. Others are concerned that it would upset the balance between Ghegs, the speakers of the northern Albanian dialect, who would become a big majority together with the Kosovars, and the Tosks who speak the southern dialect.
However, historian Sabri Godo dismisses the idea that these traditional inter-Albanian divisions matter in the 21st century.
"There is no way there would be any shattering of the balance between Ghegs and Tosks. I believe this whole idea is looking back to the past and to the regionalism that belongs to the past." 
Nonetheless, these domestic considerations, along with a reluctance to shoulder part of the burden of what may prove to be a long period of Serbian hostility to Kosovo, all militate against the notion of promoting unification with Kosovo.
"The prospect of a Greater Albania would have serious negative implications for Albania's own internal political stability," says Richard Eames, a Vienna-based senior analyst with the Economist Intelligence Unit. 
The key issue, as seen in Tirana, is to demonstrate to the EU Albania's commitment to security in the Balkans.
According to the Minister of European Integration, Majlinda Bregu, Tirana's official stance is that there should be no changes to existing borders in the region after the creation of an independent Kosovar state, which she says will help guarantee peace and stability in a troubled region. 
"We are looking forward to Kosovo's declaration of independence, but this does not mean to us the creation of a "Greater Albania," Bregu says.
One of the widely shared, but usually unstated, assumptions in Tirana is that Albania, which has gone a long way towards integration with the EU, would not want this process slowed down, if it had to wait for Kosovo to catch up. That, too, is a powerful argument against seeking unification with Kosovo.
Bregu argues that Albania is fully committed to a partnership of good neighbourly relations with Kosovo, and this engagement extends to Serbia also. 
"European integration remains the major goal of all the countries in the region, and after all, when that happens, we will all be united then," she adds.
                    [post_title] =>  Tirana Shuns Greater Albania 
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                    [post_content] => By Veton Surroi
It is being repeated, like a theatrical scene, although not with the same content, the yearend. Last year around the same period there was pressure towards President Ahtisaari not to announce his plan at the end of the negotiating process, because this would damage - it was said - the chances of the democratic forces in the announced parliamentary elections in Serbia. 

The Crisis is in Serbia 
This year, at the end of the additional negotiations with the intermediary Troika, and after the report has been delivered to the UN Secretary General, pressure is being put to hold off on independence declaration in Kosovo until the presidential elections in Serbia. We are told once again that the declaration is an act that could damage the democratic forces in Serbia.I will not go into the larger implications of these similarities, except the fact that it should be noted that the whole process of disintegration of ex-Yugoslavia was the declaration of people and states for independence and at the same time the establishment of new relationships with Serbia. In Slovenia, the act of independence was made by the people, but the act of war was done by Serbia. Similarly in Croatia, and with more tragic consequences in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Luckily, in Montenegro there were no victims, but the process had the same substance: the majority population made its decision and Serbia tried to thwart this choice. The conclusion: after all these years of dissolution of ex-Yugoslavia, the source of all ex-Yugoslav crises is in Serbia, and it remains there, as will be manifested in the case of the Kosovo independence.In fact, after all these years of the dissolution of ex-Yugoslavia, finally the status of Serbia will be resolved as well - as an independent state, one that does not rule over others. 

A key issue of transatlantic politics in today's Europe
This form of dramatic manifestation will have two more characteristics. On the side of Serbia will line up Russia, due to its own geostrategic interests, a Russia enriched with petrodollars in want of reconquering the political space left behind by the Soviet Union. Kosovo in the meantime has turned into a point of transatlantic agreement, respectively of closeness between the United States and the European Union after the previous cool off due to the Iraq war. Becoming e key issue of transatlantic politics in today's Europe, independence of Kosovo in a very telling ways shows that it is an issue of partnership. There is a logical path of the Kosovo case development: we had the peace talks in Rambouillet, NATO's military intervention in 1999 to prevent genocide, establishment of the UN administration in Kosovo and now we will have the EU supervision of our independence. Further on it would be logical for this transformation to lead to EU membership.Partnership means that in the following months we will hear less and less about unilateral declaration of independence and more and more about the coordinated declaration of independence. This signifies that Kosovo authorities will take on their obligations towards their partners in the international community, obligations that arise from the Ahtisaari packet. At the same time, there will be the taking on of the obligations by the international community, with the most prominent one being the recognition of Kosovo independence in the current borders.

Three key challenges will threaten Kosovo independence 
Three key challenges in the in the ensuing period will threaten Kosovo independence from the early on.The first challenge is the fact that independence of Kosovo will not have the traditional judicial cover, as was the case in the other processes of dissolution in ex-Yugoslavia, but will be based on the ambiguity of the 1244 Resolution. This ambiguity will be used by Serbia and Russia to deny the legitimacy and international legality of independent Kosovo. 
Through this method the two will try to scare especially the Third World countries, but the process of international recognition from the powerful countries - by the United States and the absolute majority of EU countries - will open the irreversible path to the majority of world states, although this process might take some time.
Nonetheless, the eventual joined Serb and Russian attempt will be successful in keeping Kosovo temporarily out of international organizations like the UN, OSCE, etc. This will impede Kosovo's direct participation in the organizations that derive from the UN, and will also impede the implementation of the Ahtisaari packet, especially in the domain dealing with the OSCE mission in Kosovo and the tasks of this mission.
The second challenge deals with Serbia and the projection of her politics, which will aim to disrupt the functioning of Kosovo as a normal state. Threats of embargo and disruption of energy transport are already known. Furthermore, some current government circles in Serbia will engage members of their security services, either military or civilian, which are the least reformed institutions in Serbia, with the aim of destabilization of the situation in Kosovo, generating even violence, especially towards the ethnic Serb citizens in Kosovo. And within this attempt, there is no doubt that there will be a concerted Serbian state effort to legitimized and legalize that entire segment that is called "parallel structures." This means that on Kosovo independence day we will see the ethnic Serb members of the Kosovo Police Service in the northern part of Kosovo put on other uniforms, or the Bridge Guards in Mitrovica take off their leather jackets and put on uniforms of the state that pays them.
Without any doubt, viewed from the perspective of some circles in Moscow, this is the scenario for the creation of a frozen conflict. From Moscow will be heard the voice directed towards the EU: "here is your frozen conflict, it's not only in the Caucasus anymore."

The functioning of independent Kosovo
The third challenge has to do with the functioning of independent Kosovo, a new experiment. Implementation of the Ahtisaari packet will be difficult, in some segments even impossible. For example, an important part of this packet relies on the Prishtina-Belgrade partnership to address the needs of Kosovo Serbs. In the absence of Belgrade's cooperation, there will not be a partnership, thus neither implementation. Likewise in other regards, such as decentralization. Ahtisaair's packet is, to use the words of a world renowned economist, a 21st century packet for a country that has the economy of a poor Latin American country of the 60's.
And although there should be no doubt that Kosovars will adopt the obligations of the packet into their legislation, there needs to be a much stronger partnership with the international community in order for its implementation and to protect the functionality of the country. Here, of special importance will be the nature of the European Union's mission in the independent Kosovo. How will the given powers be used, how will the equilibrium with the Kosovar institutions be established - these and other similar questions remain today, and from the answers given in the first few days of the upcoming mission we will understand whether we will be dealing with something new or the temptation to be the new administrators in what will then be an independent Kosovo.

Speech by Veton Surroi delivered at the Conference After 10 December - EU's Challenges and Responsibilities Towards Western Balkans, organized by the Bertelsmann Foundation in Ljubljana.
                    [post_title] =>  Kosova independence - challenges and prospects 
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                    [post_content] => In order to understand the political developments in Albania during 2007 one has but to go for a stroll on Tirana's main boulevard, stop in front of the Prime Minister's office and look carefully at the Christmas tree there and the New Year's decorations along the boulevard. If you do that you might notice that while the decorations placed in the boulevard by the Municipality of Tirana are strikingly red, those of the Prime Minister's Christmas tree are blue. For the sake of those who are not familiar with the symbolism of such colors in Albania's politics, a reminder is in order: blue is the color of the ruling Democratic Party, while red, as elsewhere, has traditionally been the color of the left, in this case Albania's opposition. The silent rivalry between these colors in the centre of Tirana is as good an illustration as any of the political situation that has prevailed in Albania for the best part of 2007, where government and opposition have continually tried their best to stake their claims on all aspects of Albania's life and make each other's lives difficult to the detriment of all else.

Political life in Albania has traditionally been polarized, but 2007 marked something of a record on that count. Indeed there have been three major moments during this year during which our esteemed politicians have shown that they never hesitate to put short term, narrow party interests above long term national interests.

So at the beginning of the year there were the local elections, which were eventually held on February 18th.  That the elections took place without causing a serious crisis was in itself a miracle that owes much to the energetic intervention of former President Alfred Moisiu and the International Community. The different camps of Albania's politics had for months failed to agree on anything concerning these elections, but what made the situation all the more poignant was not simply the fact that in early 2007 Albanians still had to go through a real emotional drama every time the word elections came up. The worse part of it is that the local elections were to serve as a demonstration to NATO and the EU - whose membership Albania aspires - that Albania's democracy has indeed matured and that it can hold free and fair elections and once again Albania almost failed. In the end we had to make due with a passing grade, accompanied by an OSCE/ODHIR comment that the elections were a missed opportunity.

Now one might have thought that in light of this first failure fro 2007 Albania's politicians and especially the government which had promised to make the electoral reform its priority, would have taken a deep breath, reflected, pulled up their sleeves and got to work to address that failure. God forbid! If anything the elections served to heighten the tensions and increase the polarization even further because they were won by the oppositions thus bringing about a clear division of power in Albania with the central government controlled by the right and the local government controlled almost completely by the left.

It must be said that from the moment it gained power in 2005 Albania's government, led by Prime Minister Berisha had made clear its intentions to gain control over all centers of power in the country and all its independent institutions. In light of the results of the local elections the government's efforts towards achieving this aim became all the more energetic. The High Court, the Constitutional Court and even the Academy of Sciences fell one after the other to the government - the Academy finally lost the battle only last Wednesday with the passing of a new law in Parliament - but the major battles of this nature of course concerned the two cherries on the cake: the Presidency and the Attorney General.

The battles over these two institutions which ultimately the government won were controversial and accompanied with allegations of manipulations, of being unconstitutional and of vote-buying. In the case of the President the vote of six Socialist Party "defectors" proved decisive - they were paid millions of Euros for their votes the Socialists have repeatedly claimed and barring the occasional lighthearted denial, the government or the President for that matter, have not made any concerted efforts to show they are wrong. In the case of the Attorney General the procedures of the Parliamentary Commission recommending his dismissal were ridiculous and suspicious to say the least, but the new President rubber stamped the recommendation and the government got what it wanted.

Whatever the results these two moments clearly demonstrated the inability and unwillingness to cooperate and reach consensus from both camps of Albania's political establishment. In fact they risked taking the country to the brink just so as not to give an inch to their adversary, thus demonstrating high levels of political irresponsibility. And they certainly did little to help the country's chances of receiving an invitation into NATO. But above all these developments demonstrated one of the major and most worrying problems with Albania's democracy: it lacks those institutions that can control and keep in check the power of the executive and that constitute one of the fundamentals required for the existence of a liberal democracy. Indeed to all effects and purposes, democracy in Albania is still conceived off as the dictatorship of the majority over the opposition.    

While the government may have got what it wanted in these Parliamentary and institutional battles in the course of 2007, it has certainly paid a high price. The government came to power in 2005 on a platform build around three pillars: fight against corruption, improvement of the economy and implementation of the Euro - Atlantic integration reforms. Unfortunately the political battles mentioned above have taken up so much of the government's energy and time that to a large extent it has had to neglect all these election promises.

Thus as far as the reforms go little has been achieved in 2007. There has been some success in financial reforms which were aimed at formalizing the economy and at easing the procedures for starting businesses and the gathering of taxes has improved. There was even talk of a fiscal amnesty for businesses, but now it seems that that will have to wait till 2008. The most important reforms however, those in the judicial and electoral systems have been completely frozen and it seems the government has only itself to blame for this result. By unilaterally gaining control of all institutions and excluding the opposition from all its decisions the government basically shot itself in the foot and made sure that the oppositions would radicalize its stance vis-a-vis the government. Thus the reforms are getting nowhere.

The government has also faced another serious problem in 2007 with the economy. The prolonged and very serious electricity crisis reached its peak in 2007 and its effects are being felt more and more by Albanian businesses and ordinary citizens. The Albanian Central Bank warned in November that businesses have stopped investing and have simply resigned to waiting the crisis out thus putting in doubt the economic growth of Albania for 2008 (for 2007 economic growth reached an estimated 4,5%, down from a predicted 6%, although it must be said that such figures are always open to interpretation in Albania.) What is not in doubt however is the fact that from a political perspective the government has paid a very high price to the electricity crisis - and is probably going to pay an even higher price to the worsening economic situation. During the elections of 2005 Prime Minister Berisha promised electricity 24 hours a day by the end of 2007; the current situation makes a mockery of that promise. But the most serious blow the government has received in 2007 concerns the so-called favorite "battle horse" of the government: its anti corruption pledge. Several cases of involvement of government officials in bribery and corruptive practices, and above all the allegations of massive corruption on the construction of the Durr쳠- Kuk쳠highway as well as a recent survey by Transparency International that showed that most Albanians do not think corruption levels had changed at all have seriously dented the governments image by hitting it where it hurts most: its claim to honesty and integrity.

So in a final analysis although the government has won all Parliamentary battles, strangely enough its position during 2007 has somewhat deteriorated rather than improved. Its credibility has fallen considerably and its ability to reform or manage the economy has been put in doubt also due to the incompetence with which it has handled the electricity crisis during 2007.

The opposition on the other hand seems to be closing 2007 just the way it started it: on a positive note. Loosing all major parliamentary battles to the government - due to the power struggles for the leadership of the Socialist Party and the manipulations of former Prime Minister Fatos Nano who suddenly became Berisha's new found best friend - the opposition strangely found itself in the enviable positions of having nothing more to lose. This allowed the new Socialist Party leadership under Edi Rama to dedicate all its energies to consolidating its position; something which it seems to have achieved beyond the most optimistic predictions. At the same time although it has nothing more to fight for in Parliament, where the government can pass any laws it feels like by a simple majority the opposition has still the ability to block the government's reforms if its opinion is not heard. And after all it is upon these reforms that any Albanian government must be judged while the country attempts to join the EU and NATO. 

Nevertheless although one has to be overly optimistic to believe in a real improvement of relations between government and opposition in Albania, at the end of 2007 there have been some signs of a thaw, maybe because of the festive atmosphere.  There are even rumors that Berisha is trying to reach out to Edi Rama, because apparently it has finally dawned on him that if Albania is to get an invitation for NATO membership at the Bucharest Summit in 2008 there have to be reforms and cooperation between both camps of Albania's political spectrum. Furthermore now that he basically controls everything even Berisha can afford to be magnanimous. Whatever the motivations for this thaw, if the rumors are indeed true 2008 would undoubtedly be a much more productive and positive year than 2007 has been.  The fear though is that this thaw might end up being nothing more than just that and that once Albania's politicians recover from the holiday hangover they revert to being their usual selves.  
                    [post_title] =>  Albania in 2008 
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                    [post_date] => 2008-02-01 01:00:00
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                    [post_content] => By Bernd J. Fischer
It has been nearly two years since the death in The Hague of Slobodan Milosevic, the last of the twentieth century Balkan strongmen. The former leader of Serbia had been sent from Belgrade to face trial for war crimes on 28 June 2001, twelve years to the day after his speech at Gazimestan in Kosovo (on the 600th anniversary of the myth-encrusted battle of 1389) which formed the prelude to the decade of wars and the disintegration of Yugoslavia that followed.
If 28 June, St. Vitus's day, thus constitutes a key symbolic date in the history of Serbia and the Balkans, the demise of Milosevic in March 2006 - with his trial unfinished and amidst a swirl of rumor - has its own symbolic significance for the region. For it gave new life to a long-standing debate concerning the nature of political leadership in the Balkans, which, in recent centuries, has experienced more than its share of strongmen - from kings to generals, to nationalist demagogues and brutal communist era tyrants. Pessimistic observers have suggested that we have not seen the last of the Milosevics, the Ceaucescus and the Hoxhas, whose political style is so thoroughly engrained in the Balkan psyche that it is only a matter of time before their successors reappear to drag the region back into political darkness. 
Any discussion of this issue must be seen in the context of history, which in this case may help us determine the causes of the phenomenon of Balkan strongmen, why the era lasted so long, and whether authoritarianism really is a cultural inevitability in the Balkans. This long-standing tradition began in the early nineteenth century as the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled much of the Balkans for half a millennium, began collapsing under the weight of modern nationalism. The "Great Powers" of Europe, which facilitated this collapse, chose new rulers and political systems for the Balkans based on their own policy priorities, and drew up authoritarian constitutions which often mirrored their own. 
The newly created Balkan states were therefore saddled with the likes of Otho (Otto) the first king of Greece, a seventeen year old Bavarian prince whose advisors considered the natives to be too primitive and unfit to participate in their own government. The transplanted German aristocrats like Otho struggled with the Ottoman heritage of polyglot societies and Balkan particularism, but did manage to further the process of nation-building - albeit with a focus on an issue that could easily turn toxic: nationalist irredentism. 
This Balkan nationalism was largely driven by fear - fear that the "other" will end up in occupation of territory once held by "our" medieval hero. But nationalism was always augmented by another fear, the fear of internal security services. By exploiting the two, most nineteenth century Balkan strongmen survived and thrived, at least until the former fear resulted in international tension which contributed to the outbreak of the great war in 1914.

History, not innateness
The post-1918 period brought on the next generation of these strongmen. The period began in the midst of great hope with the old illiberal ruling class replaced by extended suffrage and elements of populist democracy. New parties developed clear programs that generally included the establishment of full constitutional democracy. 
But most of these early hopes were quickly dashed as old and new political, social, and economic problems proved to be more enduring than the promise. Among other factors, a structural peasant problem (where too many people were working in conditions of primitive under-resourced agriculture) was exacerbated by the great depression of 1929-1932 to allow ambitious leaders with a new political narrative to emerge. They presented themselves as "saviors" of the people, the nation and the state and - often with the support of the military and helped by their exploitation of popular fears of the "other" - they were able to push the Balkans from proto-democracy to authoritarianism to some form of dictatorship. 
A prime representative of this generation was Carol II of Romania who frivolously spent much of his energy on his mistress, his hunting, and his cars, in consequence squandering both his initial popularity and the many benefits with which Romania was bestowed following the 1914-1918 war. When Carol was forced to cede territory to the Soviet Union and Hungary at the beginning of the Second World War, the nationalism which he had inspired and sought to manipulate was turned against him, and forced him into an undignified exit reminiscent of a wild-west movie. 
The problem of Carol, Zog and their contemporaries was not the region's innate authoritarianism. But a combination of factors - outside influences, dramatic events, intractable internal problems influenced by a stubborn Ottoman heritage, and the example of their predecessors - was reinforced by the arrogance of power to make Balkan politicians assume that only they had the answers. 

Politics, not nature
The Second World War swept away this second generation of strongmen, their political systems, and their societies, and ushered in the third generation (occasionally in the baggage train of Soviet troops.) All functioned with constitutions, national assemblies, and elections, though none were in any way limited by them. 
The post-1945 leaders were faced with the same problems that their pre-war counterparts had been unable to solve - national issues, economic backwardness, and political instability among them. The policy-mix too was often similar, but only after the proper (progressive, socialist) ideological justification could be cobbled together. 
One of the better known of these usually dull-grey little tyrants was Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania, the self-styled "great genius of the Carpathians." Ceausescu's remarkable career - remembered for its brutal extremism and his gaudy palaces with all the tacky trappings of an instant billionaire - in many ways both fell within and exceeded the tradition of Balkan strongmen. On Christmas day 1989 the world awoke to bizarre TV images of his kangaroo trial and instant execution, an event that perhaps more than any other symbolizes the end of the era.  
As with the earlier generations of strongmen in the Balkans, the regimes that Ceausescu, Hoxha and their contemporaries created were facilitated by a combination of cataclysmic upheaval, external forces, domestic conditions, and the ambitions of a few would-be saviors of the nation. Again they tended to rule through fear of security services and the fear of the "other" inspired by extreme nationalism which, at least in some cases as in Albania, created an artificial state of siege.  This process developed into a recyclable pattern, but it was still rooted in explicable political circumstances and not inevitable or natural.

A new page?
So in the post communist period, has there been or will there be a fourth generation of strongmen? The collapse of communism certainly caused considerable dislocation and foreign influences are still very much at play. But the upheaval was perhaps not as great as the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, or either of the two twentieth century world wars. And the foreign influence has shifted back to a now generally- democratic west and the impetus seems to be towards a market economy and at least the trappings of democracy. 
Still there has been some support for a fourth version, a "strongman-lite" version, where the leader was expected to use his powers to rapidly transition the state. Representative of the "strongmen-lite" type was Sali Berisha of Albania, who (before his resurrection as prime minister in 2005, a post he still holds) served as president from 1992 to1997. In this period, Mr. Berisha - encouraged by many in the west - attempted to rule through fear, again inspired by force and nationalism, artificial elections, and an authoritarian constitution. But his radical political experiment collapsed in chaos in 1997 amidst a "pyramid scheme" scandal that promised instant wealth to Albanians but instead impoverished thousands who sank their savings into a financial house of cards; this allied to popular rejection of Mr. Berisha's new nationalism, and proposed constitution, led to the near-disintegration of the Albanian state.
Was this the last gasp of the concept of strongmen in the Balkans? Certainly their resurrection is inhibited by a number of factors, including the rather undignified end of Ceausescu and Milosevic. Positive inhibitors include what NGOs often refer to as "democracy factors" including the press, civil society, the electoral process, and the courts, all strengthened by the prospect of Euro-Atlantic integration. Even in Albania - the poorest (next to Moldova) country in the region, and the one where dictatorship's legacy was heaviest - there has been progress.
But much remains to be done, and the progress that has been achieved doesn't guarantee that the door to the emergence of the "Balkan strongmen" is necessarily closed forever. Some commentators have pointed to the growing nostalgia for the stern, powerful figureheads of old - even if most who can be found at birthday celebrations for dead dictators tend to be retirees who have fallen through the cracks, or individuals who were de-legitimized by the collapse of the previous regimes.  
But several factors could have the effect of enlarging this alienated group by stirring the Balkan nationalism on which charismatic strongmen thrive. They include failure to resolve the Kosovo issue, the long-term stalling of the integration process, and the persistence or deepening of wealth polarization and economic problems in general. As my old Balkan history professor always said, an empty belly burns a hole in the flag. The return of Balkan strongmen, then, is not inconceivable - but it is unlikely and certainly not a cultural imperative.
                    [post_title] =>  Balkan Strongmen: exit from history 
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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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