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OSCE says anti-defamation law should protect, not threaten, media freedom

OSCE says anti-defamation law should protect, not threaten, media freedom

TIRANA, July 12 – The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe assessed on Thursday afternoon that there has been significant improvements in the “anti-defamation” package presented by the Albanian government, but stressed that new legislation should respect international standards

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Court of Appeals rules former DP MP’s arrest was “illegal”

Court of Appeals rules former DP MP’s arrest was “illegal”

TIRANA, July 12 – Shkodra’s Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that the arrest of former opposition Democratic Party MP Bardh Spahia on June, was illegal.   Spahia was arrested last month after the protest of a group of opposition supporters

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Words vs Actions, or what makes a government great

Words vs Actions, or what makes a government great

By Sidonja Manushi  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and the Socialist government seems to have taken this quite at heart, as it relies much more on photo propaganda than it does on putting its money where

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Lezha prison workers catch drug-carrying drone inside prohibited area

Lezha prison workers catch drug-carrying drone inside prohibited area

TIRANA, July 7 – Albanian police announced on Sunday the first case of an attempt to deliver, with the help of drones, narcotic substances and cell phones inside prison premises. In its announcement, the police said prison workers had spotted

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ODIHR Mission: “Citizens’ interests were not taken into consideration during elections”

ODIHR Mission: “Citizens’ interests were not taken into consideration during elections”

TIRANA, July 1 – The OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission in Albania stated on Monday that local elections were held without appreciating the citizens’ interests, while political clashes brought about legal uncertainty.  “In a climate of political deadlock and polarization, voters

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Meta says Electoral College decision has “no effect” on Presidential decree

Meta says Electoral College decision has “no effect” on Presidential decree

TIRANA, June 25 – President Ilir Meta issued a statement in response to the Electoral College backing up a Central Elections Commission decision not to deregister a political party from the June 30 local elections, a “no effect” decision.  The

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Electoral College: “Local elections will take place on June 30″

Electoral College: “Local elections will take place on June 30″

TIRANA, June 24 – Albania’s Electoral College supported on Monday the Central Election Commission’s (CEC), which decided the decree of President Ilir Meta cancelling June 30 as the local elections date is invalid and continued with the process preparation. The

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European integration: Searching for the enemy

European integration: Searching for the enemy

TIRANA TIMES 4 YEARS AGO  By Albert Rakipi The hopes and expectations for opening negotiations for Albania’s accession to the European Union have taken a hard hit even for the most realistic and skeptical people for whom it was clear that

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North Macedonia wants to separate from Albania regarding decision to open EU negotiations

North Macedonia wants to separate from Albania regarding decision to open EU negotiations

TIRANA, June 16 – Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama reacted on Saturday to North Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski’s request to the European Union to judge his country separately from Albania on the topic of opening accession negotiations. This comes after

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Deadlock escalates as political sides clash on local elections’ date

Deadlock escalates as political sides clash on local elections’ date

TIRANA, June 16 – Albanian President Ilir Meta reiterated on Saturday that his decree canceling June 30 as the local election date is compulsory to be implemented by all. Meta’s comments came a day after the parliament passed a resolution

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 12 - The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe assessed on Thursday afternoon that there has been significant improvements in the “anti-defamation” package presented by the Albanian government, but stressed that new legislation should respect international standards in order not to interfere with freedom of expression.

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media in Vienna, Harlem Désir, published a statement and analysis of the Draft Law on Media Services in Albania.

“The new legislation should respect the OSCE standards and commitments on freedom of expression and not negatively affect the media freedom in the country," Desir said.

This document estimates the abolition of the previous provisions on registration and blocking of the domain name, and the OSCE welcomed the fact that the changes affect only the media legislation and not the telecommunications legislation.

Désir stressed that blocking or suspension of online publications is considered an extreme measure of the state towards the right to freedom of expression, and is accepted by international standards only in cases of serious violations of other human rights or democratic principles, or other measures can not be implemented.

“My office has been involved in a lengthy consultation process during drafting of this legislation and constructive cooperation with the authorities made numerous improvements. However, further improvements in the law are still needed during parliamentary scrutiny,” he said.

Another positive element, according to the OSCE, is the abolition of the Compliance Committee's competence to determine moral, ethical or professional respect, as well as the abolition of AMA's powers of blocking the media in cases of “violations of the provisions of the law.”

Désir further stressed that “the Audiovisual Media Authority should not replace the independent judiciary or self-regulatory mechanisms for freedom of expression issues,” adding that this also applies to the blocking of content, fines for violations of the law and modalities of the right to respond.

The OSCE Representative noted that AMA's powers regarding "temporary blocking or restricting access to the Internet" could only be applied in three clear cases defined by law: child pornography; encouraging terrorist acts; and national security breaches and when such measures are considered necessary and proportionate, taking into account the existence of a near danger.

Albanian media circles expressed their concern over the government's unobserved approval of a number of legal amendments coming as anti-defamation packages. 

The government said it took this step to avoid false news, bringing regulation into online media services, and electronic publications.

Justice Minister Etilda Gjonaj said that Albanian society has recently been disturbed by the spread of fake news that affect the lives and dignity of family members.

"Online platforms are neither transparent nor registered, so laws are being reviewed to avoid misinformation and false news," said Gjonaj.

The government said that with the anti-libel package, it is interfering in the law on audio-visual media, electronic communications and value added tax, and in a child protection decision.

According to her, the intervention provides for swift action on complaints to protect the rights of citizens complaining of fake news and creating a registry with these online media as taxable persons.

But Besar Likmeta, a representative of the Balkan Investigative Reporters Network (BIRN), says Albania does not have massive fake news from the media.

“Our biggest problem is the fake news and propaganda spread by the government, which copies laws from countries with autocratic tendencies like Russia,” said Likmeta.

The government says portraying records serve transparency, avoidance of conflict of interest, inadequate influence of politicians, journalists' independence, and pluralism of the media.

But the representative of the Albanian Media Council, Koloreto Cukali, says the amendments first presented in December were described by international organizations as anti-democratic and it is unknown whether the government changed them or re-approved the same yesterday.

“The fact that it does not consult with media and media representatives shows that the government's goal is to shut down the media online, while the new austerity amendments do not affect the personal online media of its prime minister,” said Cukali.

The government adopted these legal amendments a few days after meeting a mission of seven international media freedom organizations, which reported a deterioration of the Albanian media's state and freedoms.

In their report they called for new measures for compulsory online media registration and the creation of a body to fine-tune and shut down online and foreign media without a court order as steps that contradict the best practices international self-regulation and can have a detrimental impact on freedom of expression and information and freedom of the press in Albania.

"At our meeting with the prime minister, he informed us that an updated version of the amendments project will be made public soon, after international criticism. He stated that in the next draft the possibility of closure would be eliminated and fines would be much lower than they were in the initial project. We welcome these changes and recall international human rights standards that states ‘states should not impose compulsory online media registration as a prerequisite for their work because this can have a very negative effect on media freedom,” said the organizations’ report. 




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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 12 - Shkodra’s Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that the arrest of former opposition Democratic Party MP Bardh Spahia on June, was illegal.  

Spahia was arrested last month after the protest of a group of opposition supporters at Shkodra’s Commission of Electoral Administration Zone (KZAZ), located at the “Shejnaze Juka” High School, where he was accused of opposing police officers and damaging election materials.

Spahia was further accused by the police of “destroying property with fire,” “contradiction of police officer,” “threatening one’s duty,” and "disobedience to police orders regarding public safety.” 

Three days after the arrest, Shkodra’s First Instance Court sentenced Bardhi to house arrest, but the Court of Appeals changed this security measure on Thursday into “obligation to appear in front of the court.”

Five more people were arrested for damaging voting material’s at Shkodra’s KZAZ, while 14 other protesters were declared wanted by the police. 

Shkodra was one of the municipalities that recognized President Ilir Meta’s decision to cancel June 30 as the local elections’ date due to their illegitimacy in context of the opposition’s complete withdrawal from the parliament and refusal to participate into what it calls “rigged elections.” 

In this context, Shkodra DP Mayor Voltana Ademi has publicly announced after the local elections took place on June 30 - amind low voter turnout and many irregularities counted - that she would not be “handing in” the municipality to Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama. 

Spahia lawyers described his arrest as political, while claiming they would seek compensation for the period spent in detention. 

 
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                    [post_content] => By Sidonja Manushi 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and the Socialist government seems to have taken this quite at heart, as it relies much more on photo propaganda than it does on putting its money where its mouth is.

The examples are, of course, endless, but two will suffice in this column. 

Once, maybe twice a year, when celebrating national holidays in particular, the Albanian and Kosovo governments hold joint meetings, usually to “strengthen cooperation in practical and beneficial fields such as trade and economy, telecommunication, border controls and security.” These meetings are characterized by flashy red colors and a lot of national symbols, state representatives (from both sides) shaking hands and speaking about the historic and traditional ties between them, which will surely be translated in similar economic and executive ties. 

It’s all fun and games, until one opens the newspaper - those still reporting independently and freely - and realizes not only that Albania is far from being Kosovo’s number one economic partner, but also that maybe ten percent of the content and promises of these joint meetings are feasible and applicable. 

The cherry on top, however, always comes when there are international meetings and summits involved, because then hiding behind photos becomes increasingly difficult, as facts speak for themselves. 

Take for example this year’s Western Balkans Summit, held in Poland’s Poznan. The pictures of Rama being present and, even friendly, with European and regional leaders are all there, and they speak of a leader who is willing to share his neighbors’ experiences and learn from the summit’s hosts alike, a friend of economic growth and democratic development.

It makes one a tad uncomfortable, then, to learn that Albania did not benefit any of the seven, 700 million euro infrastructure projects approved during the summit for the WB. Meanwhile, North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were awarded three projects in the fields of transport and natural gas extraction, Kosovo was awarded assistance to finalize its railroad project and Serbia, already working on its integration process after having opened dialogue with the EU, will be a new interconnection line. 

Maybe Albania would have also benefited financial aid if it had attended the summit prepared and with a valid project, instead of playing the old marketing game - in politics, looks only get you that far. Maybe it would also help if the government actually took EU and EC advise and stopped granting important construction projects to Public-Private-Partnership contracts, where the private sector is usually represented by shady companies that have little experience in the field, but still manage to win without any competition. 

Well, these are just some thoughts after all. But, nine times out of ten, if your actions don’t live up to your words (or your pictures), then you don’t really have anything to say. 

 
                    [post_title] => Words vs Actions, or what makes a government great 
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                    [post_date] => 2019-07-07 17:57:20
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 7 - Albanian police announced on Sunday the first case of an attempt to deliver, with the help of drones, narcotic substances and cell phones inside prison premises.

In its announcement, the police said prison workers had spotted a drone flying within the Shenkolli prison’s prohibited area, approximately 10 kilometers from the city of Lezha. Police forces managed to block the drone in the second outer prison district. During investigation of the object 7 packs on narcotics and three plastic bags were found in the drone’s body, wrapped inside a plastic bag.  

Police arrested three people in relation to this case, all caught inside a car about 1 km away from the prison. During the car’s control,  the drone bag and remote control were found, as well as three additional cell phones.

Those arrested are aged between 25-28, residents of Malesia e Madhe and Shkodra. They are accused by the prosecution for the criminal offenses "Manufacturing and sale of narcotics" and “the introduction or possession of prohibited items in the institution of execution of the imprisonment decisions, remaining in tentative.”

Recent years have seen numerous cases of attempts to introduce drugs and cell phones inside the prison. In March this year, six employees of this prison were suspended from duty for non-compliance with security regulations, which enabled prisoners' family members to put into prison narcotics through food.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 1 - The OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission in Albania stated on Monday that local elections were held without appreciating the citizens' interests, while political clashes brought about legal uncertainty. 

"In a climate of political deadlock and polarization, voters did not have the opportunity to choose between some political opportunities. The opposition decided not to participate, while the government decided to hold elections without the opposition,” said the ODIHR Mission.

According to the statement, the opposition parties' calls to boycott the controversial election and interpretations of the presidential decrees undermined public confidence in the process.

Election day was generally quiet, although Socialist Party observers dominated polling stations.

“The political environment has been polarized and antagonistic since February, when the DP and the opposition withdrew from parliament, and held a series of protests demanding government resignation and early elections by a caretaker government,” said Ambassador Odri Glover, the Head of the ODIHR mission.

In nearly half of the municipalities, the socialist candidates did not face any opponents.

Voters were kept note by political party observers, and were not allowed to calmly vote out of  fear of punishment.

Voters expressed fears that even participation or lack thereof in the polls exposed their party preferences.

A full report will be issued by ODIHR after two months, including recommendations for improving the electoral processes in Albania.

 
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                    [post_date] => 2019-06-25 10:31:23
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 25 - President Ilir Meta issued a statement in response to the Electoral College backing up a Central Elections Commission decision not to deregister a political party from the June 30 local elections, a “no effect” decision. 

The Electoral College was interpreted as recognizing June 30 as the local elections date, despite Meta’s latest decree canceling the elections due to a resigned opposition which has been protesting and calling for Prime Minister Edi Rama’s removal since February - a process Meta has said would be “undemocratic.”

Meta said on Tuesday that “the only institution deciding on the election date is the office of the President,” and that only the Constitutional Court can pass a verdict on a presidential decree. 

He further added the decision was an “intra-party decision that has no effect on his decree,” considering the Electoral College is incomplete with only one judge currently vetted and a CEC dominated by Socialist Party members. 

Meta restated his call to all parties, the government and the opposition to reflect on the political situation and reach an agreement on a new date for the local elections in order for all the political parties to participate.

The President warned that if the Socialist Party insists on holding “internal party elections” on June 30, it would stifle the EU ambitions of Albania for years to come. 

“No foreign ambassador would ever tell you this, but even if the elections that no longer legally exist were held the European future of Albania and opening of the negotiations would have an unknown future for a very long time. Such solutions do not fulfill any minimal standard of the Copenhagen criteria but Albania would be even convicted by the European Court of Human Rights. Let me be clear, I did not cancel the elections in any embassy, but in Albania,” Meta said. 

On Sunday, Meta issued another statement, calling the parliament’s start of procedures to dismiss him from office after he signed a decree that cancelled June 30 as the local elections date a “fake process, blindly oriented politically.”

The arguments on whether elections will be held on June 30 and Meta will keep his office began when Meta issued the decree canceling the elections, to which the Socialist majority responded by starting procedures to dismiss him from office, although the country is currently lacking a functional Constitutional Court. 

 
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                    [post_date] => 2019-06-24 17:17:22
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 24 - Albania’s Electoral College supported on Monday the Central Election Commission’s (CEC), which decided the decree of President Ilir Meta cancelling June 30 as the local elections date is invalid and continued with the process preparation.

The college was involved by the National Unity Party (PUK), as it asked to be removed from running in the elections per Meta’s cancelation decree, but the CEC rejected its request.

By backing the CEC’s decision regarding the PUK request to be removed from the electoral race, the college virtually recognized June 30 as the local elections’ date. 

The legal arguments upon which the college reached Monday's decision have not been disclosed, but are expected to be disclosed in the coming days when the college’s argumentative decision is published.

The Albanian opposition said the college doesn’t have the authority to assess the president's decree, which, according to it, can only be assessed by the Constitutional Court, which is out of function for the moment. For its part, the Socialist Party is referring to a 2017 decision of the Constitutional Court College, which, according to it, assesses the president's decree as an individual administrative act.

In a reaction which followed the college's decision, President spokesman Teddy Blushi said that according to him, Monday’s developments do not constitute "a surprise from the next long-orchestrated sketch.” 

The Electoral College body that made this decision consisted of judges Tomor Skreli, Ridvan Hado, Lindita Sinanaj, Artur Malaj and Shkëlqim Mustafa.

“On the one hand, the CEC says there will be elections, while the President says there won’t. Our party and our electorate came to an absurd situation. It looks like we were fighting windmills. We do not want to participate and we want the National Unity Party to be removed from the ballot paper,” head of the PUK Idajet Beqiri said during Monday’s session.

Meanwhile, Albanian-American organization VATRA called on political parties to sit and talk in order to offer people a long-term solution that can secure not only democratic standards of the country, but also a peace and social unification.

Through a statement, the Pan-Albanian Federation of Americans expresses concern over the situation in Albania, which it considers to be unprecedented and says it is deeply painful that even after nearly three decades of pluralism, some deep problems related to electoral processes still remain, although interference in the process is completely condemnable. 

Civil conflict, which is taking ground day by day, should not be allowed, and the government has the primary responsibility to find ways to quench it. The sharpening of political disagreement unfortunately accompanies large-scale social divisions, which undermine the European objectives of the country,” the statement said.

VATRA urged the parties to sit on the negotiating table, hoping that the process will be serious and not merely transitory, and at the same time expresses regret over the loss of time, which, according to her, is taken from Albania and its people. 

 
                    [post_title] => Electoral College: "Local elections will take place on June 30"
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                    [post_date] => 2019-06-23 10:50:16
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES 4 YEARS AGO 

By Albert Rakipi

[caption id="attachment_130553" align="alignright" width="225"]rakipi Albert Rakipi, AIIS executive director[/caption]

The hopes and expectations for opening negotiations for Albania’s accession to the European Union have taken a hard hit even for the most realistic and skeptical people for whom it was clear that it would never happen in 2017. According to the best possible scenario on this issue, the opening of negotiations, could be discussed in the first half of 2018, while within the same scenario a specific date for the opening of the negotiations could be set in the end of 2018. That would position the actual start of the negotiations process in the spring of 2019. It has been also made clear that during 2017 there shall be no country report (formerly known as progress report), which has been the usual annual instrument of the European Union to assess, monitor, support and finally urge the necessary reforms in Albania and the other aspiring and candidate countries. Things look actually worse than they are due to the great expectations that the government, but also some local European representatives, set out for Albania's public opinion.

However, other less positive scenarios are possible and even likely, and they are primary related to domestic developments in Albania, including:

The political stability and security of the country will see challenges which must be faced with a full respect for international standards in the next general elections, shielding them from criminal influences, shady funds, intimidation and using the resources of the state to influence the elections as well as to buy votes and control the media.

With the scope of functioning rule of law, we expect to see the practical implications from the start of the implementation of the justice reform. This is another area where expectations are high. The determining factor in this situation is whether the degradation of the democratic standards in governance shall halt, whether the rules of the democratic and electoral game shall be followed through, whether there shall be sustainable economic development and finally whether the influence of drugs and other criminal economic activities in the governing policies and decisions can be stopped.

The effect of other external developments concerning the EU itself, and some key member states, shall be no less important for the less positive scenarios than what is described above.

The EU is faced now with very crucial challenges for a number of interrelated factors and issues: Brexit, the march of populist movements, the rise of support for the parties of the extreme right, the rise of terrorist threats, the ebbs of the immigrants crisis without forgetting to mention here the economic stagnation and in some member states an outright economic crisis still to overcome. These might be actually the biggest and most substantial crises that the Union has ever faced.

In this scenario, every negative development would have an incremental negative impact on the hopes and aspirations of Albanians to see their country inside of or closer to the European Union. We could be faced even with an existential question for the very first time: is a European future possible for Albania without the European Union? Or in other words: Is it possible to construct and develop a democratic society, a functioning and just state based on respecting the fundamental rights and responsibilities of its citizens and an effective economy without the European Union?

This question is hypothetical and might be premature but it touches the essence of European integration.

Albania can be a member of the EU only if it is a democracy and a state where laws, values and human rights are fully respected. It is not accession to the EU that magically transforms the country into such a democratic, rule-of-law state that cherishes human rights and values. The opposite is true.

Albania, and other similar countries, do not have the possibility to influence the developments and even less the future of the European Union, but the Albanian society and the leading elites have the power not only to influence but also resolve the challenges that their country is facing now that the process of integration has been hardly hit.  Would it be possible for a process of reflection to start? The reflection is primarily needed for the political leaders to accept the fact that despite circumstances not very favorable in the Union and in member states, the real progress that Albania has made is not enough to open negotiations for accession. For those who really want to read and understand, beyond the dry, bureaucratic and subtle language that the Commission uses in its reports, the message was clear: the country is yet to realize the progress asked by the EU. However, instead of this necessary deep reflection what seems to be happening is a quest to try to find the enemy, to blame the others. In the philosophical realm it is a well-known constant that the existence of an enemy gives us the key to understand the nature and core of political activity.

There is a fundamental question in this context: Is Albania building democratic policies and does Albania's governance resemble a democratic regime? There is certainly no 'Albanian dream' per se, but there is an 'American dream,' the dream of the West – it certainly exists. And dream of the West is unrivaled, but it does not explain the reason of why Albanians do not want to build the future of their children in this country. This year alone, at least 13 percent of the population, the young and vital part, either left the country or is trying to legally leave it.

There is an immediate and simple answer: The dying desperate hope of transforming Albania into a place that follows the model of European countries. Said differently, European integration is not progressing. And instead of reflecting on this, the political elite is involved in a fierce and divisive conflicts – searching for enemies.

In the case of backward and frightened societies, where democracy is a façade the enemy serves to mobilize ‘us’ against ‘them’, the enemy.

The government rushed to claim that the conditional recommendation of the Commission to open accession negotiations was “historic” by reducing the conditioning, which is key, to the approval of one of the laws connected to the justice reform. This is the so called vetting law which according to the official rhetoric the opposition is sabotaging. During this entire year and in particular during the political debates about the justice reform “the enemy” was clearly projected in the dual equation: on one side the government, the US and the EU and on the other side the opposition as an enemy of the West. The silence of the representatives of the local EU institutions regarding this laughable equation, obviously does not make the opposition an enemy of the West, but it does lower the credibility of the EU in the eyes of the Albanian public.

In the official communications from the EU officials, including the country report, the political consensus for the justice reform was acclaimed and even described as progress to avoid deep polarization. The truth is that there is no progress in addressing the deep polarization, on the contrary political polarization in Albania has reached another apex. The 100 percent approval voting in the parliament of the justice reform did not result from consensus. Hiding the deep political conflict, divisions and class warfare based on a Stalinist philosophy that demonstrates itself occasionally even violently in the same parliament resembles a mission impossible.

Once again, Albania has made no progress whatsoever in reducing polarization and conflict in politics. Claiming progress would be a blatant lie while the very opposite is true.

Just as in “the good old times of communism” the enemy was not only from within but definitely also from outside. The opposition is not alone in its ‘battle against integration’, against the west. Enemy groups were also identified in Europe such as important Members of the German Parliament. Even member states of the Union were spotted and projected in public as enemies of Albania’s integration. Therefore Greece resulted as a key enemy for the perspective of the European integration of Albania. (Greece has all the power needed to be an enemy of Albania's EU integration, therefore, why should Greece not be faulted?)

Last but not least the enemy is now being projected in the geopolitical sphere as well. That goes along the lines: if the EU does not accept Albania or the Western Balkans as a whole, than Russia or other competing powers shall replace it. 

The argument and the idiotic hope in this case is to blackmail EU and some member states. Who can believe this? The ultimate irony is that in this country, with each passing day, Albanians are building a regime that is increasingly resembles Kremlin Inc. – all this while we ring the alarm bells for the threat of Russian imperialism in the Balkans to scare the rest of Europe to take us in.

 
                    [post_title] => European integration: Searching for the enemy
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                    [post_date] => 2019-06-17 23:02:02
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 16 - Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama reacted on Saturday to North Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski’s request to the European Union to judge his country separately from Albania on the topic of opening accession negotiations.

This comes after a number of international media but also EU member state representatives confirmed Albania will most probably not open accession negotiations with the EU within 2019, for not having properly met the set EU requirements. 

The Netherlands, one of the main countries that has rejected Albania’s claims to opening negotiations repeatedly, however, said that North Macedonia has made better progress and stands more chances. 

“The separation of North Macedonia from Albania on their path to the EU, by granting N. Macedonia the green light and hampering the opening of negotiations with Albania is not a good thing, but it’s the only way to move forward,” Pendarovski said.

Soon thereafter, Rama reacted through a tweet on his personal account.

“President SPendarovski implicitly favors ‘decoupling from Albania?’ Strange to hear this, especially when one considers the key contribution of Albania and Albanians in our friendly neighbour’s state democratic development and European path. Doesn’t sound right nor practical frankly,” Rama tweeted. 

 
                    [post_title] => North Macedonia wants to separate from Albania regarding decision to open EU negotiations
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 16 - Albanian President Ilir Meta reiterated on Saturday that his decree canceling June 30 as the local election date is compulsory to be implemented by all. Meta’s comments came a day after the parliament passed a resolution where it considered his act as a violation of the Constitution, but Meta said that according to him the current parliament is illegitimate. 

The open clash between the Socialist majority and Meta continues to thrive, with both sides replying to each other’s attacks publicly. The signature that Meta issued on the decree canceling June 30 as the date of the local elections, has led the political scene in the country towards what seems like a fierce battle.

One day after the parliament dedicated over six hours of debate towards Meta’s decision to cancel the set elections’ date as a violation of the Constitution and overcoming powers, Meta reiterated today that “the decree is in force. The decree is mandatory for everyone to enforce. Whoever wants to continue in the path of lawlessness, let them go! It’s their right. The president has the right to call on people to reflect daily.”

Further on, Meta said that those who decide to walk the road of illegitimacy will surely meet the consequences of provoking the country’s social peace and stability.

The parliament approved yesterday with 100 votes the resolution against the decree which sought reflection by the president. However, the latter made it clear that the existing parliament, with its deputies, is not legitimate.

“The president has been elected by the parliament. Of course not by this one, but by a completely legitimate parliament,” Meta said.

Meta also addressed the Central Election Commission on Saturday, requesting information on the number of mandates and the running MPs list.

The majority's attitude to the President's decree was compared to a coup by rhe opposition’s Democratic leader Lulzim Basha. 

Rama is normally continuing with the elections’ campaign. Yesterday, he faced an attempt from opposition supporters to block the road to Librazhd. At least seven people, among whom four local Democratic Party leaders and one former MP were arrested, while sixteen others are being prosecuted.

“These actions are open political reprimands against opponents and citizens protesting against Edi Rama’s regime. They come after the banning of some 500 members and supporters of the Democratic Party over the past five months. Meanwhile over 50 supporters and members of the Democratic Party are being held in prisons. This is the balance of a repressive regime and not of a democratic European country,” Basha said.

However, Interior Minister Sandër Lleshaj responded through Twitter, saying that “Lulzim Basha is responsible for any individual who acts against the law and political freedoms in the country! Obstruction of electoral subjects and the use of explosives against them and law enforcement are criminal offenses. No one will be tolerated and whoever responds to calls for illegality will face the law!” said Lleshaj. 
                    [post_title] => Deadlock escalates as political sides clash on local elections’ date
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, July 12 - The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe assessed on Thursday afternoon that there has been significant improvements in the “anti-defamation” package presented by the Albanian government, but stressed that new legislation should respect international standards in order not to interfere with freedom of expression.

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media in Vienna, Harlem Désir, published a statement and analysis of the Draft Law on Media Services in Albania.

“The new legislation should respect the OSCE standards and commitments on freedom of expression and not negatively affect the media freedom in the country," Desir said.

This document estimates the abolition of the previous provisions on registration and blocking of the domain name, and the OSCE welcomed the fact that the changes affect only the media legislation and not the telecommunications legislation.

Désir stressed that blocking or suspension of online publications is considered an extreme measure of the state towards the right to freedom of expression, and is accepted by international standards only in cases of serious violations of other human rights or democratic principles, or other measures can not be implemented.

“My office has been involved in a lengthy consultation process during drafting of this legislation and constructive cooperation with the authorities made numerous improvements. However, further improvements in the law are still needed during parliamentary scrutiny,” he said.

Another positive element, according to the OSCE, is the abolition of the Compliance Committee's competence to determine moral, ethical or professional respect, as well as the abolition of AMA's powers of blocking the media in cases of “violations of the provisions of the law.”

Désir further stressed that “the Audiovisual Media Authority should not replace the independent judiciary or self-regulatory mechanisms for freedom of expression issues,” adding that this also applies to the blocking of content, fines for violations of the law and modalities of the right to respond.

The OSCE Representative noted that AMA's powers regarding "temporary blocking or restricting access to the Internet" could only be applied in three clear cases defined by law: child pornography; encouraging terrorist acts; and national security breaches and when such measures are considered necessary and proportionate, taking into account the existence of a near danger.

Albanian media circles expressed their concern over the government's unobserved approval of a number of legal amendments coming as anti-defamation packages. 

The government said it took this step to avoid false news, bringing regulation into online media services, and electronic publications.

Justice Minister Etilda Gjonaj said that Albanian society has recently been disturbed by the spread of fake news that affect the lives and dignity of family members.

"Online platforms are neither transparent nor registered, so laws are being reviewed to avoid misinformation and false news," said Gjonaj.

The government said that with the anti-libel package, it is interfering in the law on audio-visual media, electronic communications and value added tax, and in a child protection decision.

According to her, the intervention provides for swift action on complaints to protect the rights of citizens complaining of fake news and creating a registry with these online media as taxable persons.

But Besar Likmeta, a representative of the Balkan Investigative Reporters Network (BIRN), says Albania does not have massive fake news from the media.

“Our biggest problem is the fake news and propaganda spread by the government, which copies laws from countries with autocratic tendencies like Russia,” said Likmeta.

The government says portraying records serve transparency, avoidance of conflict of interest, inadequate influence of politicians, journalists' independence, and pluralism of the media.

But the representative of the Albanian Media Council, Koloreto Cukali, says the amendments first presented in December were described by international organizations as anti-democratic and it is unknown whether the government changed them or re-approved the same yesterday.

“The fact that it does not consult with media and media representatives shows that the government's goal is to shut down the media online, while the new austerity amendments do not affect the personal online media of its prime minister,” said Cukali.

The government adopted these legal amendments a few days after meeting a mission of seven international media freedom organizations, which reported a deterioration of the Albanian media's state and freedoms.

In their report they called for new measures for compulsory online media registration and the creation of a body to fine-tune and shut down online and foreign media without a court order as steps that contradict the best practices international self-regulation and can have a detrimental impact on freedom of expression and information and freedom of the press in Albania.

"At our meeting with the prime minister, he informed us that an updated version of the amendments project will be made public soon, after international criticism. He stated that in the next draft the possibility of closure would be eliminated and fines would be much lower than they were in the initial project. We welcome these changes and recall international human rights standards that states ‘states should not impose compulsory online media registration as a prerequisite for their work because this can have a very negative effect on media freedom,” said the organizations’ report. 




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