Interview: Professor Bernd J. Fischer

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

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Russia’s Win-Win Situation in Kosovo

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

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Church on the Defensive

“There is nothing so small that can not be blown out of proportion” says Ruckert’s law. This probably describes the way the Albanian Orthodox Church must be feeling lately. In the last few years there has been a sustained ‘campaign’

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Kosovo’s turnaround – still a work in progress

By the numbers, it is on par with some of Africa’s poorest countries – an extremely high infant mortality rate of 35 per 1000 live births, plus a rising unemployment rate of 42%, poor quality educational systems and extreme environmental

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The unbearable lightness of judgment

Last week the news that the 2400-and-counting years old city of Berat did not make it into the precious UNESCO heritage list spread like wildfire provoking different reactions in the Albanian community. The news must have hit harder the people

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A president from the Golden Cage

After two hot weeks the Albanian political class, composed mainly of 140 MPs fed by Albanian taxpayers and their bribes are not able to fulfill a simple constitutional duty: elect a president for Albania! What should have been a simple

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Slower But Surer Progress Towards Enlargement

The Western Balkans will have to wait until the EU has agreed its constitutional reforms, which won’t happen before 2009. By Peter Sain ley Berry This week, on June 20, European Union leaders sit down for their summer summit in

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All the president’s men

In a short editorial of this week, one of the most influential Albanian dailies, continued to repeat “imagine if Nano became President,” “imagine if he did get the votes”, “imagine if he did secure the approval ofŢ, imagine this about

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“Lost paradise”- the new ban on smoking

By enforcing a ban on smoking in public areas, Albania joined the other 121 countries where smoking in public places and advertisements of cigarettes is forbidden. The ban aims primarily at safeguarding public health by reducing rate of second-hand smoking

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Managing informality: A structural approach instead of guerrilla battle

By ȡpajev Gjokutaj* Civil society, by virtue of being an advocate of citizens’ interests, is highly interested in the debate about reducing informality. Recent data that point to an overwhelming 40-50 percent of informality in the country economy show that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Berat Buzhala is editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper Express. Balkan Insight is BIRN's online publication.
                    [post_title] =>  Russia's Win-Win Situation in Kosovo 
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                    [post_content] => "There is nothing so small that can not be blown out of proportion" says Ruckert's law. This probably describes the way the Albanian Orthodox Church must be feeling lately. In the last few years there has been a sustained 'campaign' (of varying intensities) of criticism addressed at the Orthodox Church and its head, the Archbishop Janullatos, which has often rubbed off on both the Orthodox community and people of Orthodox origins. A series of incidents, such as the mysterious exhumations in Kosina, the matter of church property in P쳭et and the latest and most controversial of all, the refusal of his Excellency Janullatos to celebrate mass in honour of the victims of the ȡm genocide, have caused a furore amongst the Albanians, be they in Albania proper or in Kosovo and Macedonia. Several media outlets, politicians and historians have made their hostility to the Orthodox Church and its actual leadership abundantly clear. The language used to describe it, and in some cases the Orthodox community as well, in various forums and chat rooms on the internet is often poisonous and full of hatred (indeed the comments are at times in the same vein as 'the only good Injun is a dead Injun'), although many are careful to point out that the Orthodox Church and the community it represents are two rather different things.

It is perhaps not surprising that those most vehement in their criticism or who sometimes profess outright hatred for the Orthodox Church are ethnic Albanians from neighbouring Macedonia and Kosovo (at least that is the conclusion one draws judging from the Albanian spelling used by the participants in the discussions.) Short of a proper study on the subject one can only speculate on the reasons for this hostility towards the Orthodox Church on the part of our Albanian brethren in Kosovo and Macedonia, but they are probably historical and perfectly understandable: the enemies these populations have had to face and at whose hands they have suffered are all Orthodox and the Orthodox Churches in these countries have often played an active role in the suppression of the Albanians. This in turn has caused them to view all Orthodox Churches with suspicion. In Albania proper on the other hand there are some who view Orthodox Greece as an aggressive power bent on fulfilling its Megali Idea by claiming the south of Albania (the so-called Vorio Epirus) and who therefore view the Albanian Orthodox Church as a fifth column whose loyalties cannot to be trusted fully. Needless to say, those who profess such opinions are a minority and the nationalist and patriotic credentials of the Orthodox Albanians are just as good as those of any of the other Albanian religious communities. And yet such opinions do resonate. 

It is also needless to say that such rhetoric can hardly be positive for the religious harmony in Albania. Denouncing the actions (or lack thereof) of the Orthodox Church in populist tones by evoking the national cause might win a politician some points in the short term, but the long term effect is bound to be detrimental. This is not to say that the Albanian Orthodox Church should enjoy some sort of immunity from criticism; far from it. But these critics must think of how someone belonging to the Orthodox faith or coming from an Orthodox background might perceive the media campaign on the exhumations in Kosina - to name but one incident. The accusations levelled against the Orthodox Church seem to have been an almost knee-jerk reaction on the part of many outspoken critics of this church and its leadership. It did not seem to matter that there had been no investigations into what really happened in Kosina. The words of a disgruntled worker sufficed to convince many of the guilt of the Church. Guilty until proven innocent as it were and one would have been forgiven for believing that the Orthodox Church was about to hand over Kosina to the Greeks. And when the investigations revealed no such conspiracies on the part of the Church or its leadership, and that if anything, these had been the misguided actions of a local priest, the media were quick to point out that the prosecutors had been intimidated and that they could not be trusted anyway, and that somehow the Church had intervened, and that the Greek ambassador must have had a hand in it all, etc, etc, etc.

This incident does show one thing: belief in conspiracy theories is always emotional rather than rational and so seems to be the distrust vis-ஶis the Albanian Orthodox Church too. This is just what makes these sorts of situations dangerous.

In fairness, one has to say that most of the high profile figures that have come out to criticise the Orthodox Church have been careful to distinguish between the Church and its congregation, but this does not always filter down to the common people. That is why these critics should reflect and think more carefully of the consequences of their actions and the language they use. After all, it is easier to open a Pandora's box than to close it!

The Albanian Orthodox Church and its leadership also bear their part of the blame for the current situation. While it is true that an archbishop's post is not an easy one to fill and that Janullatos has done a good job in rebuilding the Church from scratch (as pointed out by the Albanian Church in Boston too), they must also realise that the Greek origins of the Archbishop were bound to be controversial. Couple this with some of the mistakes committed by this same Archbishop and one can understand the suspicion that exists on the ultimate intentions of Janullatos even if one does not agree with it. There is also another element which the Church leadership has not grasped or has intentionally ignored: the Orthodox Churches of the neighbouring countries, e.g. Greece, Serbia, Macedonia, have always been at the forefront of the national cause of these countries (the latest example being the role of the Serbian Church in the wars in the former Yugoslavia).  His Excellency has often pointed out that the Church's role is spiritual and that temporal matters are best left to politicians. A sentiment to be congratulated, under normal circumstances, but many Albanians do not seem to believe the Church is living up to its professed position. If the Greek Church is involved in politics (which are often perceived as being detrimental to the interests of Albania) and if Janullatos is a Greek priest, why should we believe that he has Albania's interest at heart, goes the argument. Let's take the latest incident involving the refusal to hold mass for the victims of the ȡm genocide. The reluctance to hold a Christian mass honouring Muslim victims might be understandable from a doctrinal point of view, but the Catholics faced exactly the same quandary and that did not stop them from celebrating mass anyway. Indeed the Catholic clergy has never failed to play an important role in issues pertaining to Albania's interests. Why was it so impossible for the Orthodox Church to do the same? Well right or wrong as it may be, one answer does lend itself: because Janullatos is a Greek, the Albanian Orthodox Church seems to find it more important not to offend the Greeks than to honour Muslim Albanian victims who suffered at the hands of the Greeks. This seems to be the way this decision has been interpreted by many Albanians who were deeply disappointed by it.

It may be that the Archbishop and the Church leadership perceived the invitation as a deliberate provocation, or even a trap, and maybe there were elements of both in that. But if it was a trap, they fell into it. The refusal to celebrate mass in order to avoid mingling in politics was in itself perceived as a political statement which only provides the critics of the Church with more ammunition.

Both the Albanian Orthodox Church and its critics have to realise that the most valuable thing Albania ever produced is summed up in the famous verses: "the faith of the Albanians is Albanianism". This is the principle upon which modern Albania was built and this is also what distinguishes us from our neighbouring countries where heinous crimes have been committed in the name of religion.  For those who are inclined to paint the Orthodox Church black it should serve as a reminder that making the Orthodox community feel under attack in the name of patriotism or nationalism can hardly be positive for Albania. For the Church it should be a reminder that in a country that has up to now performed a real miracle in terms of religious harmony, the Church is duty bound to subject its own interests to the greater good, which in this case means the Albanian national cause. This does not mean that the church should betray it beliefs. It simply means that it should continue on the path set for it by the great men who built the Albanian Autocephalous Church. And unfair though it might be His Excellency Janullatos and those around him must realise that the Archbishop needs to go the extra mile in order to convince the Albanians that he has the interest of Albania at heart.
                    [post_title] =>  Church on the Defensive  
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                    [post_content] => By the numbers, it is on par with some of Africa's poorest countries - an extremely high infant mortality rate of 35 per 1000 live births, plus a rising unemployment rate of 42%, poor quality educational systems and extreme environmental contamination. But the UN Administered Province of Kosovo is not in Africa; it's in the heart of Europe, and the international community has promised to help turn the page from the devastating chapters of discrimination and killing in its recent past to a brighter future. 

Since the atrocities of 1999, Kosovo's population of 2 million has been trying to  return to normalcy, rebuilding their homes and neigbourhoods and establish livelihoods and employment opportunities, particularly for those under the age of 25.  Many of them  want to start building a new future on new foundations. This aspiration has been recognized after a painstaking effort by the UN's Special Envoy Marrti Ahtisaari to find consensus that would lay the foundation for a sustainable future. Further delay comes at the cost of economic and social development and, eventually, the stability and security of the region. Therefore,  last week's deliberations by the Security Council  and statements leaving major issues about Kosovo's status unresolved, have been met with deep disappointment in a society with wounds that are still healing.  

That is why the statement by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that "the progress achieved by the United Nations and the provisional institutions in Kosovo can begin to unravel" remains valid. A Security Council negotiated consensus agreement on Kosovo's status is by far the preferable option. However, Kosovo's troubled history requires unwavering engagement of all parties involved to open the road to the future.  

It is clear that the status quo is unsustainable. Assuming a lasting multilateral commitment to financially support the country as a given, the current perversity of resource allocation needs to be turned around urgently. Now approximately US $2 billion annually are spent to support the administration and security to 'run' Kosovo. This is roughly a staggering 10 times the amount that is spent on development programmes, ranging from investments in infrastructure and energy provision to key interventions in education, health and the environment in Kosovo. This ratio must be turned on its head. There will be no investments in productive sectors unless basic conditions for private initiative are met and current exports will start to offer the huge current import imbalance. Nor will young people see or pursue their future in a place without jobs. With this untenable situation on its doorstep, the European Union faces the obligation to prevent an economic and social fiasco by taking the lead in tipping the balance towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals in Kosovo - Goals to which it is strongly committed everywhere else in the world. 

This was also the promise to Kosovo's internally displaced who are returning, defying the fears or expectations that Kosovo could not become a multi-ethnic society.  The importance of supporting their common future extends to the whole of the region where still tens of thousands of displaced people are returning to their neighborhoods, despite the horrors of just 10 years ago. Moreover, investing in the stability of the region finds its reward in a trend of increasing economic growth, which is inextricably linked to securing the political setting, including the prospects of joining NATO and the European Union sooner or later.   

There is a need to overcome the current piecemeal approach of assistance to Kosovo to ensure that the donors, the World Bank and the European Commission and the UN agencies, funds and programmes work to complement each other's strengths.  This is crucially important for successful transition in Kosovo.  

It will be no easy feat, but we have a moral obligation to move from the current status of 'limbo' to turning the spotlight on the economic and social fabric of the communities that live in Kosovo. Another few months to set this transition in motion may be needed; it will not and should not alter the commitment to act. 
 

Ad Melkert is UN Under-Secretary General and Associate Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and has recently returned from a visit to Kosovo. 
                    [post_title] =>  Kosovo's turnaround - still a work in progress  
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                    [post_date] => 2007-07-13 02:00:00
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                    [post_content] => Last week the news that the 2400-and-counting years old city of Berat did not make it into the precious UNESCO heritage list spread like wildfire provoking different reactions in the Albanian community. The news must have hit harder the people who are actually working very hard to compile the files and the folders of documentation to prove to UNESCO that this city is really old, really beautiful and really valuable, something that even a half-blind person can conclude after a one-day visit to the town. There is a small army of historians, art experts, restaurateurs and municipality workers committed to presenting an image of their beloved city so that it gains the special attention of this important world institution.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Yes, one of the reviewers of the Berat file has declared that an appeal shall be made next year and the documents will be presented once again. Yet this is not the point. The news of the postponement seems to have raised a debate about many issues related to the city at the feet of the pine-lined hills.  

Should we really discuss about the values of Berat? About the castle- the only inhabited one in the Balkan region, whose stone layers testify to each different historical period the town has lived under?  Or the Onufri church and museum where the rare codex (Codex Purpureus Beratinus F and  Beratinus-2, the Golden one) were discovered and where the wonderful artistic iconography of the master Onufri still adorns he altar and the walls? Or the classic Ottoman style architecture bridge of Gorica watching the clam green waters go by? Not to mention the Mangalem and Gorica quarter with their whitewashed walls, wooden-framed windows that blend miraculously the Mediterranean style with the autochthonous elements.

Berat does not offer only historical and architectural values; it is a symbol of religious harmony. The visual representation of people belonging to different confessions respecting the centuries long tradition of harmonious coexistence is seeing in Berat's old quarters churches and mosques side by side, just like in Sarajevo. Unlike in Sarajevo here the view is not deceiving.

(Still not convinced? Die-hard skeptics? Check out the photos at http://www.bashkiaberat.net/index.htm , you shall see the light.)

Berat is old! Berat is beautiful! Berat is valuable!  

An argument launched as an explanation for not including Berat in the list yet was the resemblance of Berat to Gjirokastra further down south. This likeness granted that exists is not overwhelming and most importantly cannot be a reason of rejection. Does the fact that Budapest resembles Vienna or Prague make either of these cities less pretty or less loveable? As a reason it is ludicrous.

Some people have argued that the Albanian authorities have not done enough to document or promote the values of the city. There might be some truth in this as our administration seems too busy playing peek-a-boo with the president issue. Yet I doubt that more efforts would convince the sometimes irrational international judges who come to these conclusions (yes non-Albanian people are human beings as well and yes they tend to be irrational just like the rest of us mortals, no big deal!)

The city of Berat does not need UNESCO to affirm its values, the Albanians should be one hundred percent certain and comfortable that they exist and no other city, older or prettier, can be a match. The people of Berat need the extra protection, the potential upcoming investments and promotions.

It will be an honor to UNESCO when they eventually include this amazingly rich town in terms of history, art and culture into its own ranks and not vice versa. Yet sometimes even what seems obvious and just tends to disappear in the unbearable lightness of judgment!
                    [post_title] =>  The unbearable lightness of judgment  
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                    [post_content] => After two hot weeks the Albanian political class, composed mainly of 140 MPs fed by Albanian taxpayers and their bribes are not able to fulfill a simple constitutional duty: elect a president for Albania!

What should have been a simple task turns out to be impossibly long and complicated given their political myopia, their inability to come to a right judgment, their fill-time commitment to corruptive practices which consume their time.

Given that they have reached a dead-end and cannot elect president themselves they are proposing now a popular vote. Let the sovereign chose!

   With this proposal they overlook two things: first, a popular presidential election would require a constitutional change (which to Albanian MPs sounds a s easy as changing a tie) and second a popularly chosen president means a less powerful PM and in  small place like ours even no PM at all!

   Nevertheless, considering that a campaign, for president or for early elections, would be too expensive (weighting on taxpayers again!), and given the already too fragile Albanian economy, I have come to a proposal for all Albanian politicians: let the president be chosen from the golden cage, the Albanian reality show.

   The political parties should come forward and propose their candidates, as many as they want. The more the merrier! Considering the proposals made so far we have 9 from the opposition and 4 from the majority coalition. All these candidates vying fro the most prestigious political post should be isolate din a luxurious hotel lets say Rogner or the Sheraton. Perhaps even in a comfortable villa at the periphery, in Linza.

They should be barred from watching television or listening to the radio or even using their mobiles. They can not communicate directly to the public who will vote with their SMS the winner.

The candidates will be allowed to be accompanied form their first ladies as the position of a first lady is at least as important as that of her husband. The ladies will also be barred from TV or mobile phone communication. (Well, perhaps an exception must be made for their telenovellas.)

The cameras will roll 24/7 while the candidates will expose their programs and debate among themselves for issues pertaining to leadership and state management. Every few hours they can have discussions about the Attorney General, the appointed ambassadors, the fiscal package, NATO and EU integration, the relationships with the USA, Russia, Serbia, Greece, Italy, the Tcham issue, the Iraq war, globalization, terrorism ,etc.

   Al the direct transmissions from the house will be left outside the time allocated to news editions so that people can hear on real issues such as what is going on with water supply, electricity shortages, hunger strikes of miners, the construction of the Duress-Kikes road, the lack of public investments, the increase in interest rates, the public debt, the African climate, the accidents claiming human live sin the mornings and why not a rare opera or theatre play in the weekends.

Alongside the direct debates there should be sessions for answering questions from the public. The candidates will be free to consult their first ladies on several issues. Indeed on matters related to charity, unemployment, social issues health, children abuse and abortion they will be even encouraged to do so.  

   The only channel through which the candidates can communicate to the public will be just like in the reality show the secret room where they would plea for victory and their message would be safe from the ears of other candidates. Here they could talk about their vision about Albania's future, the economy, the government, who they would like to see as PM, High State Audit head, Justice Minister, who would they see as a propagator of Albania's NATO integration, etc.

The voting pattern would be very clear and simple. For the assistance given to transmitting the public messages as well as for their general integrity and honesty AMC and Vodafone would be rewarded with postponing the third mobile operator for one more year.

According to AMC and Vodafone Albania counts 2 million registered users of mobile phones, approximately equal to the number of eligible votes. Mobile phones will give the opportunity to vote even to immigrants whose voice has never counted despite their 17 years remittances feeding Albanian economy.  

   Double voting will not be permitted. Five times voting neither!

   Voting process will have differences. Rural voters with prepaid cards should not be charged while numbers ho start with 20 or 40 should be overcharged given that they often belong to politicians, businessmen and other rich elements of the society. This money shall forma charity fund. The candidates should decide on the beneficiaries of this fund. Maybe orphan children, maybe children of assassinated policemen, children whose policemen fathers have been rendered unemployed, or even the miners who just recently got out of the hunger strike. This should take into consideration probably the families of the tow miners who lost their live sin the Bulqiza accident some days ago.

   And given that till July 24, when the official mandate for the current president is over, there are still a couple of days, a big show is guaranteed. The TV stations will compete for more and more viewers. "What's going on with the President in the cage?" shall be the question of the day. No strikes, no accidents, no work, no water and electricity concerns. These days will be exclusively devoted to the election of the President, only this time in an efficient way.

   And the final day shall arrive. The big TV final night will feature thousands of eyes glued to the TV screen. Journalists and analysts will comment live. People from all over will watch the Guinness record setting show: Tonight the president is chosen! Who will it be?
                    [post_title] =>  A president from the Golden Cage  
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                    [post_content] => The Western Balkans will have to wait until the EU has agreed its constitutional reforms, which won't happen before 2009. 
By Peter Sain ley Berry
This week, on June 20, European Union leaders sit down for their summer summit in Brussels. The summit is supposed to last for two days but the discussions at the European Council may well drag on into a third or fourth day of tense negotiations, as the 27 states grapple with important institutional reforms that will shape the Union for years to come. 
What will be the effect of these reforms on Western Balkan entry prospects? And will a successful outcome to these negotiations remove what has been a block on substantive progress during the past two years? 
We should take nothing for granted. It is still possible that Poland may veto the talks, as it has threatened to do, unless it is allowed to maintain its present voting strength in Council of Ministers meetings. Should this happen, the whole process of constitutional reform will be thrown back and enlargement blocked for an indefinite period. 
But a Polish veto is only one of several potential stumbling blocks; there are big differences between what most nations want to keep from the old constitutional treaty and what countries like Britain and the Czech Republic are prepared to entertain. Major compromises will be required from both sides.  
Even if the talks are successful and the leaders agree a framework for a new "Reform Treaty" there is still no guarantee that among the 27 nations there won't be one that fails to ratify the document. This is despite the fact that the treaty has been designed to avoid the necessity for ratification by referendum. This is crucial in France and The Netherlands on the rock of whose electorates the original constitutional treaty crashed in 2005. 
But assuming all goes well, the ratification process should be complete by 2009. It will only be after that, I suspect, that a new enlargement window will open up. 
That doesn't mean accession talks will not proceed in the meantime. While the new French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has indicated that he does not see Turkey as a future member, he agrees that the Western Balkan states should join at some point. It is just a question of when. 
Nevertheless, as one reason for the negative results in France and the Netherlands was the speed with which the EU was enlarging, the new treaty is likely to contain references to the EU's capacity to accommodate new arrivals. We may, therefore, be looking at accession processes that are more gradual. 
It is also doubtful whether the summit will really get to grips with the thorny question of exactly how a Union of 33 or more states should be run; how decisions should be made and how states should be represented - in order to ensure the efficient conduct of business.  
In essence, European leaders are discussing constitutional provisions originally designed for six states and developed to accommodate 15 and now 27 states. But the whole character of an organisation changes as its membership increases. Achieving a consensus among a partnership of 30 is many more times more difficult than achieving one among 15. 
Such questions will need to be addressed once the framework of the new treaty becomes clear. The sooner such discussions start the better, so that some conclusions may be available before 2009. 
As for Turkey, the French President has suggested that instead of joining the Union, it might position itself at the centre of a Mediterranean community, linked to, but not part of, the EU. Which other countries this community might embrace is not clear, however. Moreover, Turkey has made it clear it opposes being asked to take any path that does not end with EU membership.  
We shall need to see how much support Mr Sarkozy receives for his suggestion. Yet the idea of countries working together is surely a good one. I suggested something similar myself in an earlier article in this newsletter. (See http://www.birn.eu.com/en/58/10/1583/?ILStart=20 ) 
In the Western Balkans, a form of competitive entry in which states race to squeeze in under a closing door could be replaced by collective or community entry.  
A group of states that worked together to form common institutions and to meet EU entry requirements might join together, preserving some regional autonomy within the overall Union structure. 
Such "community" thinking may have a further advantage. It is hard to see any lasting stability for Kosovo outside a wider collective framework that embraces all relevant interests.  
Self-determination will no doubt ultimately prove the guiding principle in a final status settlement; it is hard to see where else the future of Kosovo could lie.  
But the more such a solution is wrapped in a community framework the less the trauma for all concerned. Thus, slow but surer progress could well be the message from this summit. 
Peter Sain ley Berry has worked as a consultant with various European companies and undertaken information work for the European Commission. He contributes a weekly political column to the Brussels based EUobserver and is the editor of Europaworld.
                    [post_title] =>  Slower But Surer Progress Towards Enlargement 
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                    [post_content] => In a short editorial of this week, one of the most influential Albanian dailies, continued to repeat "imagine if Nano became President," "imagine if he did get the votes", "imagine if he did secure the approval ofŢ, imagine this about Nano, imagine that! Indeed Fatos Nano has few chances to become President, thus the imaginary feelings are almost justified. Nevertheless his shrewd political approach deserves credit and with a bit of luck he could as well succeeds leaving not much room to imagination.
Everyone seems to be in love with Nano all of a sudden. In the weekend, former strong opponent Nikolle Lesi held his hand. In Nano's own words, "Lesi showed traditional highlander generosity in accepting the auto-critical approach towards the past." If Lesi finds it reasonable to extend this generosity to the present as well, Nano might find himself with a couple of votes more from the Demo-Christian Party. Indeed, coming out of the SP's office meeting, where Mr. Nano received a cold shower, one might think that he does not stand a real chance. But did you notice Mr. Nano tremble? Did he sound insecure; did he say anything about refusal? No, on the contrary he said they had resumed the partnership. Is it important what he says? It has always been.
But why talk about trifles when Mr. Nano seems to have the most important and decisive support of "the one" and only man who can command a majority of votes in the parliament, the Prime Minister himself.
Lets take a look at the other competitors: The candidate of the majority is the head of DP's parliamentary group and a very popular figure Bamir Topi.
In the last meetings of the right-wing coalition currently in power, though one by one all important names are withdrawing the de-facto support for Bamir Topi, reserving him a place only in the appraisals ledger.
Current president Alfred Moisiu was backed to a certain extent by Edi Rama and received positive feedback for his work by President Bush as well during is visit on June10. Moisiu though does not stand good chances because the DP has repeatedly voiced their disapproval of him with Parliament Head and DP's number two, Jozefina Topalli leading a staunch word-battle against him.
Unless we consider Albanians love for surprises, which can perfectly well turn out to be the decisive factors, others candidates can pose no real challenge to Nano's name.
It is true that Nano does not enjoy the support of the opposition and has never been considered a consensual option. Nevertheless he does have many supporters within the SP, which would rather ruin their political career than abandon him and his interests. This was obvious in the Congress of the Sp in April where the tension between supporters of current SP leader Edi Rama and former leader Nano grew to a boiling point.
To most actors of the civil society, media analysts and all sorts of other paper-mongers, the return of l'enfant terrible has seemed as impossible, unthinkable, abhorring and a list of other synonyms of indignation.
Nevertheless, like all political games, Nano's one has a sound reasonable expectation supporting it, a good calculation of either numbers of media effects (after all a nice presidential campaign means that he can still run the show.)
Hence the scenario where a Prime Minister accused of setting Albania in flames in 1997 and another one who fled it the year after when the crowds challenged his authority are going to have an absolute grip on Albanian politics is scary despite being with a lit bit of luck, justƩmaginary.
                    [post_title] =>  All the president's men 
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                    [post_date] => 2007-06-08 02:00:00
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                    [post_content] => By enforcing a ban on smoking in public areas, Albania joined the other 121 countries where smoking in public places and advertisements of cigarettes is forbidden. The ban aims primarily at safeguarding public health by reducing rate of second-hand smoking exposure. There are over 850,000 smokers in Albania, were the total number of inhabitants is just above 3 million, and they spend annually about 300 million euro on cigarettes, according to the Institute of Public Health in Albania.

It used to be the heaven of smokers, a country where the fumes would rise up in every public space and no one could complain on such "ludicrous" reasons as passive smoking danger or bad smell. All age ranges, from teenagers to old people, and recently independent of any gender differences, would light up enjoying the pleasures of their vice wherever, whenever. Their reality though was shattered. From last Friday's midnight though all Albanian smokers will have to battle away their day with the humorous tyranny of no smoking signs everywhere, looking avidly for tables in the verandas of bars and clubs where their little smoking corners are unaffected. 

A European law - a global tendency
The ban on public smoking is a requirement of the Association and Stabilization Agreement with the European Union. Its benefits include the protection of non-smokers form the hazards of passive inhaling of fumes, the potential reduction of the number of smokers and more realistically the reduction of the quantity of nicotine a smoker inhales daily. In the meantime a state-sponsored action will be taken to reduce the number of tobacco advertisements in public areas. The new law also stipulated ban on all such ads.
The law also imposes age-limit for purchasing cigarettes. Selling tobacco products to minors could be a subject of fines of up to $1000. Indeed smoking among young ages has always been a very important issue. Scenes where children as young as 10 years old smoking cigarettes on the streets, and especially scenes with Roma children even younger than that asking people for cigarettes have been depressingly common. 
In fact smoking bans are discussed and implemented worldwide. The United States for example, has some of the toughest laws against smoking not only in public closed spaces but also within close ranges of any sort of building. These laws and regulations vary according to specific states but the general tendency is towards more regulation and less space for smokers. This is based on research that has found smoke-filled rooms contain up to 50 times the number of cancer-causing particles as nonsmoking rooms. This is a truly dire situation for restaurant and bar employees who, unlike customers, have no way around inhaling second-hand smoke.

Small business in difficulty
When the first rumors were heard about the possibility of such a regulation, people did not believe it. They brought up explanations of how the industry of bars and clubs would experience a shock. They clearly underestimated the capacity of the most established members of this industry to adapt parts of their ambiences to the new law. Most of the bars now have separated areas with open spaces dedicated to smokers and inside spaces carrying the sign that ban smoking.
Nevertheless the majority of the little coffee- houses and bars do not have the space need for a veranda or an open space. These small businesses are at the brink of collapse given that their customers will look towards new places where they can still enjoy their addiction. 

Upcoming seasons
The timing of the law could not have been better. The summer season in front of us guarantees a gradual suffering for all smokers who will now be only partially affected given the possibility to smoke in outdoors spaces. The real challenge will arrive with the advent of the cold season where outdoor caf顳itting will no longer be possible. Up until then it remains to hope that bars and clubs will have adapted special rooms with all safety and isolation requirements to offer to their loyal smoking clients so that they do not freeze out in the cold. 
                    [post_title] =>  "Lost paradise"- the new ban on smoking 
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                    [post_content] => By ȡpajev Gjokutaj*

Civil society, by virtue of being an advocate of citizens' interests, is highly interested in the debate about reducing informality. Recent data that point to an overwhelming 40-50 percent of informality in the country economy show that half of the national revenues are not subject of redistribution and consequently do not contribute to the reduction of poverty, to the improvement of social services and to the living standards of Albanians in general. 
The fight against informality is a process that encompasses many aspects but its success or failure will depend on two main variables: the need to guarantee a wide political and social support and the avoidance of the spontaneity by conceptualizing a systemic reform. 
The government as the principal actor to coordinate the measures against informality is under the obligation to equilibrate the contributions form business actors, civil society, media and all other relevant ones. 
Albanian informality is a quasi-endemic occurrence affecting vital sectors. Hence the recovery from this dangerous phenomenon can only be gradual. In this context the wide support of important factors, the participation of interest groups and transparency throughout the process are mandatory to guarantee its success.  Simultaneously the fight against informality should not affect negatively the values of business and free enterprise- let alone destroying investment- but modify their relationship with institutional values. 
The government is justified to consider economic informality as the main problem, especially fiscal evasion given its midterm concern of fulfilling electoral promises, which require more funds in the state budget.
However, the civil society actors view informality in a wider perspective and hence justify the civic concern to design a comprehensive and long-term reform that addresses all its aspects, ranging from blood-feuds (informal justice) to black labor (informal employment). 
In the recent public discourse, frequent reference has been made to the phenomena of informality in the activities of political parties and especially to the relationships between sponsoring business and parties in times of electoral campaigns. Besides being non-transparent, these funds often come in the form of payment for future quid-pro-quo favors in decision-making such as tenders, and affect largely the law-making process. 
In this context the "party- politics- business - electoral campaigns" informal schemes become very dangerous because it serves as a mechanism towards state capture. Fighting this sort of informality then becomes a priority for both the society and its institutions given the strategic importance of the decision-making process that it seeks to undermine. 
The conceptualization of the anti-informality reform as an all-encompassing movement would require a comprehensive vision and would guarantee wider support from different components of the society. The public needs to perceive this fight as a systematic and upfront effort and not a segmented, guerrilla-like battle with no clear strategy. 

* Executive director, 
Soros Foundation Albania
                    [post_title] =>  Managing informality: A structural approach instead of guerrilla battle 
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            [post_content] => Professor Bernd J. Fischer, a history professor at the University of Indiana, Fort Wayne, gives his expert views on matters of interest to Albania and region, such as the case of Kosovo and democracy & development in Albania.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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